The real McCoy
"The real McCoy" is an idiom and metaphor used in much of the English-speaking world to mean "the real thing" or "the genuine article", e.g., "he's the real McCoy". It is a corruption of the Scots "The real MacKay", first recorded in 1856 as: "A drappie o' the real MacKay," (A drop of the real MacKay), and this is widely accepted as the origin.
How it came to be "McCoy" is unclear – it is believed that the first recording with this spelling occurred in Canada in 1881. In James S. Bond's The Rise and Fall of the "Union club": or, Boy life in Canada, a character utters, "By jingo! yes; so it will be. It's the 'real McCoy,' as Jim Hicks says."
The phrase has been the subject of numerous fanciful folk etymologies ever since.
The real MacKay 
"The real MacKay," is a Scots phrase that first appeared in print in 1856 as "A drappie o' [drop of] the real MacKay," according to the Scottish National Dictionary; the same work says that the phrase was later adopted as a slogan to promote G Mackay & Co Ltd's whisky. The Webster's Dictionary also quotes Robert Louis Stevenson from 1883 in a letter saying "He's the real Mackay."
In Scotland the phrase was traditionally always "the real MacKay" (with the ay pronounced as in the word "eye"). In Ireland this changed to McCoy. The Irish families with the names MacKay, Mackie, McCoy, McGee and Magee originated in Scotland and the Isle of Man, crossing to Ulster as Gallowglasses in the 13th century.
Michael Quinion of the World Wide Words website and author of the 2006 book, Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins, enumerates the myths regarding the origin of this phrase:
- Norman Selby, an American welterweight champion boxer from 1898–1900, became known as Kid McCoy. There are many apocryphal tales to the effect that he had many imitators and had to adopt the term to distinguish himself; or that during one match, he pretended to be dazed and weak after being hit in order to trick his opponent into attacking him. But then he came back and surprised his opponent with an attack, and the announcer said, "Which is the real McCoy?" Still other stories have his identity being denied by a drunkard whom he then punches out, prompting the response from the drunk, "It's the real McCoy."
- The McCoy side of the infamous family feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys on the West Virginia-Kentucky border in the United States in the late nineteenth century is cited as a possible starting point.
- A famous American cattle baron by the name of Joseph McCoy is said to have promised his investors to bring 200,000 head of cattle from Texas to Chicago in 10 years. In the early 1870s he brought 10 times as many in just 4 years (theory popularized by Alistair Cooke).
- During the U.S. Prohibition era, it was common for rum-runner captains to add water to bottles to stretch their profits, or to re-label it as better goods. One American rum-runner captain and boat builder, William S. McCoy, became famous for never watering his booze, and selling only real top-quality products. Because of this, some accounts place McCoy as the source of the term "the Real McCoy."
- A reference to pure heroin imported from Macau.
- The saying has widely been accredited to Elijah McCoy, a Canadian-born African-American inventor from southern Ontario, Canada, for his oil cup invention which improved the lubrication system for train engines. The theory is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would inquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy". The original publication of this claim can be traced to an advertisement which appeared in the December 1966 issue of Ebony. The ad, for Old Taylor Bourbon whiskey, ends with the tag line: "...but the most famous legacy McCoy left his country was his name."
Still other claimed sources include:
- A dispute between two branches of the Scots Clan Mackay over who was rightful leader. Lord Reay headed one branch and he came to be known as the Reay Mackay which migrated to 'the real McCoy'. See Chiefs of Clan Mackay and Lord Reay.
- Joseph McCoy (1837–1915) was mayor of Abilene, Kansas and styled himself 'the real McCoy'.
- A Pennsylvanian named McCoy supplied commercial grade nitroglycerine to safecrackers who deemed it superior to homemade product.
Regarding "McKay" to "McCoy" transition 
Quinion notes that many authorities favor the above-mentioned Kid McCoy story, saying "It looks very much – without being able to say for sure – as though the term was originally the real Mackay, but became converted to the real McCoy in the US, either under the influence of Kid McCoy, or for some other reason." It should be noted, however, that Kid McCoy, was only nine years old when "the real McCoy" was first published in Canada in Bond's aforementioned 1881 book, The Rise and Fall of the "Union club."
- Scottish National Dictionary
- 2007 Oxford English Dictionary
- Bond, James S. The rise and fall of the "Union club" or, Boy life in Canada. Yorkville, Ontario. p. 1. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "The Real McCoy". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Casselman, William Gordon (2006). "The Real McCoy". Bill Casselman's Canadian Word of the Day. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Quinion, Michael (2006). Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 212–213. ISBN 0-0608-5153-8.
- Quinion, Michael (12 February 2011[last update]). "World Wide Words: the Real McCoy". worldwidewords.org. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
- Ebony, December 1966. p. 157.
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