[Ads-l] Antedating of "Phoney"

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 5 18:07:57 UTC 2019

As to how or why the accepted spelling (and presumably pronunciation) 
changed from the longstanding "fawney" to "phoney," perhaps it had to do 
with the naming of the new technologies, telephone and phonograph.

Beginning in the late-1870s, there were a number of jokes, humor bits or 
stories that used the "phon" in telephone or phonograph as a pun of 
sorts on the word, "funny."

The Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nevada), March 20, 1877, page 2.
"Now and then we strike a good thing done by the journeymen funny-men of 
the papers . . . . 'if you please, where is the telephone?' They 
telephoney story about this."

The Brooklyn Union, April 2, 1877, page 2.
"When telephonic communication is established with Hartford we shall 
expect mark Twain to telephone-y story to Brooklyn audiences 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1878, page 2.
"The 'tel-a-phoney story" point has already been used by various Eastern 
paragraphists who have never felt the quickenings of conscience."

The Poultney Journal (Poultney, Vermont), May 10, 1878, page 1.  The 
title above a collection of humorous items was labeled "Phoney-graphs."

Democrat and Weekly Sentinel (Burlington, Vermont), June 29, 1878, page 
1.  The title above an article about Thomas Edison's workshop, "Edison's 
Megaphone and other Phoney Things, Including 236 Patents."

I did not look through all such jokes in all years, but by 1889 (when 
Phoney was already in use), a joke used "Phoneyman" to mean a 
"professional Humorist."  Might this have played on the sense of a 
funnyman telling untrue stories?  Might something like that have helped 
blur or extend the perceived meaning of "phoney" in "phoney rings," as  
to other false things? Or vice versa?

The Clyde Argus (Clyde, Kansas), October 25, 1889, page 2.
"Phoneyman (professional Humorist): 'Most men imagine they are witty.'
Jones: 'Yes, even the humorists do that?'"

------ Original Message ------
From: "ADSGarson O'Toole" <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>
To: ADS-L at listserv.uga.edu
Sent: 8/5/2019 1:06:03 AM
Subject: Re: Antedating of "Phoney"
>Excellent find, Peter. Here is another example of phony jewelry in a
>slightly earlier citation in 1888. The article eventually indicates
>that the phony jewelry corresponds to rings.
>Date: August 25, 1888
>Newspaper: The Cincinnati Enquirer
>Newspaper Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
>Article: Played His Last Card: Sudden Death at a Faro-Table
>Quote Page 1, Column 4
>Database: Newspapers.com
>[Begin excerpt - double-check for errors]
>When arrested he was drunk and had $320 in his clothes, although the
>suit he wore was not worth seventy-five cents. He was known to the
>police as a circus and fair worker, and was an all-round "sure-thing"
>man, a shell-worker, dealer in "phony" jewelry, &c. His visit to this
>city was to work the last-named racket, about two hundred snide rings
>of all kinds being found in his kit.
>[End excerpt]
>>  ________________________________
>>  From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Sent: Sunday, August 4, 2019 7:04:38 PM
>>  Subject: Re: Antedating of "Phoney"
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Subject:      Re: Antedating of "Phoney"
>>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>  FS:  << "This gang has succeeded in floating in the Twin Cities an immense
>>  amount of the finest work of "phoney" plates and molds ever seen by the
>>  officials." >>
>>  GT:  << Plates for counterfeiting currency and molds for coins, I think. >>
>>  WB:  Well, I'm sure it was a cabal of renegade dentists peddling
>>  black-market dentures & tooth molds.
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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