The real McCoy

Last updated

"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". The phrase has been the subject of numerous false etymologies.



The phrase "The real McCoy" may be 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"). This appeared in a poem Deil's Hallowe'en published in Glasgow and is widely accepted as the phrase's origin. [1] [2] [3] [4] A letter written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883 contains the phrase, "He’s the real Mackay". [4]

In 1881, the expression was used in James S. Bond's The Rise and Fall of the 'Union Club'; Or, Boy Life in Canada. A character says, "By jingo! yes; so it will be. It's the 'real McCoy,' as Jim Hicks says. Nobody but a devil can find us there." [5]

The expression has also been associated with Elijah McCoy's oil-drip cup invention (patented in 1872). [6] One theory is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would request it by name, inquiring if a locomotive was fitted with 'the real McCoy system". [4] [6] This possible origin is mentioned in Elijah McCoy's biography at the National Inventors Hall of Fame. [7] The original appearance of this claim in print 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." [8]

In the 1996 documentary The Line King, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld attributed the phrase to his friend 1930s pioneer radio host George Braidwood McCoy. McCoy proved he could live off the land without paying for food or rent. During the 1939 World's Fair he ate free food from the exhibitions, slept complimentary at the Royal Scot, shaved using the new electric shavers at the display exhibits, and earned spending money by selling his story to Life Magazine. During the second World War, McCoy could be heard broadcasting his radio show in 1944 Rome, where he would sign off saying: "This is Sergeant George (The Real) McCoy folding his microphone and silently stealing away." [9]

Alternative attributions include:

Kid McCoy

In the United States, the phrase became associated with boxer Kid McCoy. [6] Quinion notes that "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 U.S., either under the influence of Kid McCoy, or for some other reason." [4]

In 1967 the jazz pianist McCoy Tyner released his seventh album and his first album on the Blue Note label, called The Real McCoy .

In 1976 the reggae and disco artist Van McCoy released and eponymous album called The Real McCoy.

Real McCoy is an EDM group best known for their 1993 single "Another Night". [11]

In Star Trek: The Original Series , the episode "The Man Trap" by George Clayton Johnson, featured a polymorphic alien which at one point looked like Dr. McCoy. James Blish renamed the story "The Unreal McCoy" in Bantam Books' Star Trek which was the first of a series of anthologies which were short story adaptions of the original Star Trek episodes.

Related Research Articles

Leonard McCoy Fictional human

Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy is a character in the American science-fiction franchise Star Trek. McCoy was originally played by actor DeForest Kelley in the original Star Trek series from 1966 to 1969, and he also appears in the animated Star Trek series, six Star Trek movies, the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in numerous books, comics, and video games. After Kelley's death, The Lord of the Rings star Karl Urban assumed the role of McCoy in the Star Trek reboot film in 2009.

Elijah McCoy Canadian-born inventor and engineer

Elijah J. McCoy was a Canadian-born inventor and engineer of African American descent who was notable for his 57 US patents, most having to do with the lubrication of steam engines. Born free in Canada, he came to the United States as a young child when his family returned in 1847, becoming a U.S. resident and citizen.

Kid McCoy American boxer

Charles "Kid" McCoy, born Norman Selby, was an American boxer and early Hollywood actor. He claimed the vacant world middleweight title when he scored an upset victory over Tommy Ryan by 15th round knockout.

Lord Reay

Lord Reay, of Reay in the County of Caithness, is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. Lord Reay is the hereditary Clan Chief of Clan Mackay, whose lands in Strathnaver and northwest Sutherland were known as the Reay Country. The land was sold to the Earls of Sutherland in the 18th century. Lord Reay also refers to a legendary magician in Caithness folklore.

Clan Mackay Highland Scottish clan

Clan Mackay is an ancient and once-powerful Highland Scottish clan from the far North of the Scottish Highlands, but with roots in the old Kingdom of Moray. They supported Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. In the centuries that followed they were anti-Jacobite. The territory of the Clan Mackay consisted of the parishes of Farr, Tongue, Durness and Eddrachillis, and was known as Strathnaver, in the north-west of the county of Sutherland. However, it was not until 1829 that Strathnaver was considered part of Sutherland when the chief sold his lands to the Earls of Sutherland and the Highland Clearances then had dire consequences for the clan. In the 17th century the Mackay chief's territory had extended to the east to include the parish of Reay in the west of the neighbouring county of Caithness. The chief of the clan is Lord Reay and the lands of Strathnaver later became known as the Reay Country.

Clan Sutherland Highland Scottish clan

Clan Sutherland is a Highland Scottish clan whose traditional territory is the shire of Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. The chief of the clan was also the powerful Earl of Sutherland, however in the early 16th century this title passed through marriage to a younger son of the chief of Clan Gordon. The current chief is Alistair Sutherland who holds the title Earl of Sutherland.

Donald Mackay, 11th Lord Reay

Donald James Mackay, 11th Lord Reay was a Dutch-born British administrator and Liberal politician.

Donald Mackay, 1st Lord Reay, 14th of Strathnaver was a Scottish soldier and member of Parliament. He played a prominent role in the Thirty Years' War, raising a regiment of 3,000 men, which served in both the Danish and Swedish forces. He was later an unwilling Covenanter. He was the fourteenth chief of Clan Mackay, a Highland Scottish clan.

Duncan MacKay was a Scottish footballer who played for Celtic, Third Lanark, Melbourne Croatia, Perth Azzurri and the Scotland national team.

Sandside Chase

The Sandside Chase was a Scottish clan battle which took place in 1437 in Caithness, about 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Thurso. The Clan Mackay launched a raid from Strathnaver towards Thurso until they encountered resistance from the locals at Dounreay. The Mackays then pulled back to Sandside, where they were joined by reinforcements and slaughtered the defenders on the coast north of Reay.

Donald Mackay, MacKay, or McKay may refer to:

Clan Mackie Lowland Scottish clan

Clan Mackie is a Lowland Scottish clan. The clan does not have a chief recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms therefore the clan has no standing under Scots Law. Clan Mackie is considered an armigerous clan, meaning that it is considered to have had at one time a recognised chief, or a chief who possessed the chiefly arms of the name; however, no one at present is in possession of such arms.

Battle of Leckmelm Scottish clan battle that took place in 1586, in the Scottish Highlands

The Battle of Leckmelm was a Scottish clan battle that took place in 1586, in the Scottish Highlands. It was fought between the Clan Gunn against the Clan Sutherland, Mackays of Aberach and the MacLeods of Assynt.

Malcolm MacFarlane was a Scottish Gaelic scholar and songwriter. He was a Secretary and President of Gaelic Society of Glasgow and an active member of An Comunn Gàidhealach.

Skirmish of Tongue

The Skirmish of Tongue was a battle that took place in March 1746 near Tongue in the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

George Mackay of Skibo was a Scottish lawyer, soldier and politician. He fought for the British Government during the Jacobite rising of 1745 and was later a Member of Parliament.

Events from the year 1836 in Scotland.

Mackay of Scoury

The Mackays of Scoury were a minor noble Scottish family and a branch of the ancient Clan Mackay, a Highland Scottish clan. They were seated at Scourie Castle, in Scourie, in the parish of Eddrachillis, county of Sutherland. However, Scourie was part of the Mackay chief's province of “Strathnaver” until it was sold to the Earl of Sutherland in 1829.

Hugh Mackay of Bighouse was a Scottish noble, soldier and a member of the Clan Mackay, a Scottish clan of the Scottish Highlands.

George Mackay, 3rd Lord Reay (1678–1748), was a Scottish noble and chief of the Clan Mackay, a Scottish clan of the Scottish Highlands. During his life the Glorious Revolution took place which directly affected his family and estate, and during his chiefdom he served the British-Hanoverian Government during the Jacobite rising of 1715 and the Jacobite rising of 1745.


  1. "Mackay prop. n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language (2004) Accessed 3 June 2016
  2. 2007 Oxford English Dictionary
  3. "The Deil's Hallowe'en: a poem by Young Glasgow". University of Glasgow library record. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Quinion, Michael (12 February 2011). "World Wide Words: the Real McCoy". Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  5. Bond, James S. (1881). The rise and fall of the "Union club" or, Boy life in Canada. Yorkville, Ontario. p. 1. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 , 19 February 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2013
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 December 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), 2002. National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 9 June 2013
  8. Ebony, December 1966. p. 157.
  9. [Mitgang, Herbert (23 December 1976). "GEORGE B. M'COY DIES; 30'S RADIO HOST WAS 73". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  10. 1 2 "The Real McCoy". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  11. "Real McCoy". Spotify. Retrieved 29 August 2020.