Meaning behind the phrase “the real McCoy”

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Len Rome's Daily Feature of Little Known Facts

(WYTV)- What’s the origin of “the real McCoy?”

It may have come from a brand of Scottish whiskey called MacKay. A reference to it appeared in print in 1856 that talked about a drop of the real MacKay.


The distillers A and M Mackay of Glasgow used the slogan, “the real McKay,” to advertise its whiskey brand in 1870. The phrase eventually reached the United States and eventually morphed into the real McCoy.

Here are some reasons for that change from MacKay to McCoy.

  • In the late 1800s, American welterweight champion Norman Selby boxed under the name “Kid McCoy.”
  • When he hit you, you know you were slugged by the real McCoy.
  • In 1871, a Canadian inventor named Elijah McCoy came up with a device to lubricate steam engines, railroad purchasing agents learn to ask for “the real McCoy.”
  • During Prohibition, Florida rumrunner Bill McCoy was known for selling the good stuff, never watering down his liquor When his customers wanted the best rum, they asked for the real McCoy.

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