The real McCoy

Posted by TheFallen on April 09, 2002

In Reply to: The real McCoy posted by Ray Atlee on April 09, 2002

: What does stating "The Real McCoy" mean? From where did this phrase orginate?

To call something (or someone) "the real McCoy" is to state that it (or he/she) is the genuine article, and not some lesser imitation. I was already aware that it's one of those phrases whose origins are murky and hotly disputed, but a quick search of the archives here gives a number of possible options. Here's a paste from them:-

From World Wide Words:

"There are at least half a dozen theories about which of the myriad McCoys of America at the end of the nineteenth century is the genuinely real McCoy. Was it, as Alistair Cooke argued, a famous cattle baron? Or was it perhaps Elijah McCoy, who invented a machine to lubricate the moving parts of a railway locomotive? The broad consensus seems to be that it was Kid McCoy, the former welterweight boxing champion of the 1890s. He had so many imitators, taking his name in boxing booths in small towns throughout the country, that it seems he had eventually to bill himself as Kid "The Real" McCoy, and the phrase stuck.
The Oxford English Dictionary records this from a letter written by the author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883: "He's the real Mackay". It's not only in a different spelling, but a decade before Kid McCoy became famous, and almost certainly refers to the famous Scottish firm of whisky makers."


"The real McCoy is the genuine article. The saying is said to have arisen in the late 1920s. At that time there was a well known boxer called Kid McCoy; a drunk picked a fight with him without realising who he actually was. When told the situation he was still unbelieving. In the end Kid McCoy knocked him out; on waking up the
drunk is alleged to have said; " you're right, it's the real McCoy!"
Like many of these sayings there is another suggested origin. This goes back to the 1880s and uses the name McKay, which was the name of a brand of whisky and was advertised as "The real McKay".
A third alternative comes from the days of prohibition in the USA. Billy McCoy was an infamous smuggler of hard liquor from Canada into the eastern US seaboard. Since the articles were genuine and not home-brewed the they were "real McCoys"
The phrase is recorded in an Irish ballad of the 1880s and was in use in Australia in 1903. The real McKay is pretty certainly the correct version."

You pays yer money and you takes yer choice, I guess.