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The Real McCoy:a bit more

Posted by James Briggs on April 08, 2001

In Reply to: The Real McCoy posted by Bruce Kahl on April 08, 2001

: : As a retiree from UNOCAL Science and Technology in Brea California, I worked in the Products Research Section, in paricular Technical Services. My understanding of the origin of "the Real McCoy", without documentation, is that it was an ex-slave named McCoy that had developed an oil for lubricating steam engines before the intoduction of automatic lubericators. The engineer had to stop every once in awhile and manually lubricated the pistons and associated machinery with lubricating oil. McCoy's apparently contained animal fat or lanolin to help the oil stick to the wet working parts. As you know, water and oil do not mix very well. Of course the engineer wanted to make shure he had the "real McCoy" oil that worked better that just plain oil. Steam Cylinder oils are still in use today.

: 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.