Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by mathman, Apr 6, 2014.
Where did the expression "The real McCoy" come from?
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The Real McCoy: The earliest known printed citation is from 1856, in the Scottish poem “Deil's Hallowe'en”: "A drappie [drop] o' the real McKay." This clearly refers to McKay (or MacKay) whisky. Messrs. Mackay, Edinburgh, made a brand of fine whisky from 1856 onwards that they promoted as “the real MacKay” from 1870. The expression could have derived from the name of the branch of the MacKay family from Reay, Scotland, i.e. “the Reay Mackay.” The “real MacKay” expression occurs in Scottish newspapers quite frequently in the 1860s and must have been in common use in Scotland at that date. There's no proof that MacKay's whisky is the source of this phrase but Elijah McCoy (Scottish inventor whose inventions were widely copied), Kid McCoy (American boxing champion often challenged by drunks to prove that he was the real one by knocking them out) and the Hatfields and McCoys (a family feud in Appalachia that went on for generations, and some say never ended) weren't involved as their supposed involvements all come years after the expression was already widely used in print. The “Real McCoy” variant, which is essentially the same phrase, comes later and the earliest examples come from Canada. James S. Bond's novel The Rise and Fall of the Union Club, 1881, contains this: “By jingo! yes; so it will be. It's the ‘real McCoy,’ as Jim Hicks says. Nobody but a devil can find us there.” A December 1891 edition of the The Winnipeg Free Press also includes the expression. Given that Elijah McCoy and the phrase "the real MacKay” both moved from Scotland to Canada, it is possible that the adaption from “real MacKay” to “real McCoy” was done by him or on his behalf, but the real “real MacKay,” like the “real McCoy,” is Scottish. (citation: A Phrase A Week 20120809)
You forgot to credit Wikipedia.
That wasn't my source. I got it two years ago from A Phrase A Week, a weekly newsletter for writers which apparently is now defunct. But they both agree that it originally referred to a brand of whisky (as the Scots spell it), and even cite the same sources.
Well, I searched it last night, and got a wiki article that your post is verbatim from. I don't even need to re-check. I did wonder why a clever young man like mathman couldn't google up wiki himself; I suppose he just feels like cyber-socializing. That's cool though: reason we're all here. I had thought the expression had something to do with the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the uncertainty involved in maybe shooting the wrong people. "Dagnabbit, Billy Ray! That weren't no real McCoy. You done and buckshot'd the behind of a MacCray from yonder in Jackadaw County!" exclaimed Paw Hatfield.
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The men of the Hatfield Family
Sorry, don't know why this pic won't show. Check it out. It's a good one. I like the two boys, who seem to be thinking, 'Gawd! Won't this shit ever end?'
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I did see the wikipedia article. I was curious as to whether there was any independent or other source.
Note: I am not young (84 years old).
You're as young as the girl you feel, as Groucho Marx said.
The Wikipedia article has nine footnotes! That ought to be good enough. Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!
Hmm. That puts you in the running for senior member. Dinosaur is in his 80's, and I think Billy T is also. I'm only 70.
Part of my slight skepticism comes from why change from McKay to McCoy? One wild guess is that "the real McCoy" was already used and the whiskey company used "the real McKay" as a promotion. Ads do this kind of thing all the time.
There are apparently no recorded instances of "the real McCoy" prior to this ad campaign. Literacy was widespread in the U.K. in the mid-19th century and the output of printed works was enormous. I'm sure it's possible that the McCoy version of the phrase was in use before the ad campaign and had somehow escaped transcription, but I'd consider it unlikely.
And I'd suggest that the reason the McCoy version ultimately overshadowed the McKay version was that there were, apparently, considerably more people named McCoy than McKay. The shift of a vowel is a common and trivial phenomenon in English, a language noted for its plethora of vowels and diphthongs.
E.g., ahpricot versus aypricot.
In some regional and class accents of the British Isles, McKay is pronounced McKye. I think this shift is also heard in some parts (or social strata) of Australia. For all I know, McCoy might be merely McKay with a regional accent. Or vice versa!
Many English surnames exist in multiple phonetic variants. Lovelace/Lawless is one of the strangest pairs I've encountered.
"ahpricot versus aypricot.". I realize I pronounce it either way, sometimes a is in hat, sometimes a as in day.
That's quite unusual. Were your parents from different parts of the country so you heard it both ways at home?
In some American accents, "don" and "dawn" have migrated toward the same intermediate vowel and are homonyms. Since both are common given names, this leads to considerable confusion and amusement.
When I was a kid in the 1940s and 50s, most children picked up their mother's speech patterns, for the simple reason that she was at home while their father was at work. Today they're just as likely to pick up the accent of their nanny, or the TV shows she watches. For many years now, regional accents have been normalizing because all children everywhere hear the same hybrid Hollywood-Manhattan accent from radio and TV.
I am sure I come from the region where don/dawn is a homophone. As are caller and collar. I won't tell you where I'm from because it's private, and bad people might phish me, but I think you know. Another hint, phishers, I never knew what to call those orange peachy things when I got to California because no one ever said ahp- or ape- ricot in my region, or if they did, they weren't sure which way to say it either.
Both parents were immigrants and Yiddish was their first language. I suspect I was exposed to both pronounciations from many sources.
Cool! My paternal grandfather's parents came over from Germany in the 1850s. They were totally secular and spoke German as well as Yiddish. When they arrived they were compulsive about assimilating, learned English as fast as they could and joined a Christian church. Grandpa only knew a few words of Yiddish and German, no Hebrew, was never taught any Jewish customs, and married an Episcopalian.
I've lived in Illinois, Arizona, southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Maryland. Everywhere I've been, the short-A pronunciation of "apricot" was dominant, and in the last two places I've never heard the long-A version at all.
I'm curious about how the conflicting phonetics evolved, but some mysteries in linguistics require more resources than I have available.
I think most folks just simply don'y know how to pronounce the word apricot because for ages they were not widely distributed beyond California. People knew of apricots, but why would they come up in most any conversation?
Isn't it lucky I am only typing it and am spared having to pronounce the word here at all?
So ape-ricot, ahp-ricot - which is the real McCoy? Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!
Dictionary.com lists the short-A version first, which could imply either: That is the most common pronunciation or: They're both used about equally. In my experience, the short-A pronunciation is more common in the USA. Since English is a democratic language rather than an authoritarian one (like the French and their Academie), the majority rules but the minority is usually accepted.
The word itself has an amazing etymology. We got it from the French, who got it from the Iberians, who got it from the Moors, who got it from the Greeks, who got it from the Romans. The original Latin name was persicum praecox, literally "early-ripening peach," which may have been their name for the apricot.
Interesting. 'Praecox' would have been pronounced sorta-halfway between pry-cox and pray-cox. Apparently over time it became pricot. The 'ay' sound at the start would have possibly been an indefinite article. I've usually pronounced it 'ay', not 'ah'; I've assumed the people who pronouce it 'ah' read about it more frequently than they encounter it in the real world. But then I also pronounce Rodeo as the spanish do (Ro-day'-o; not Ro'-dee-o) , which is what I learned in an English-speaking environment with lots of hispanic influence.
Sorry, I took too many shortcuts through that etymology. Praecox was squeezed into several other phonetic formats long before it came anywhere near Angle Land. According to Dictionary.com:
First attestation in English 1550s as abrecock, (eventually assimilated to French abricot, in an era when French was the language of scholarship, commerce and diplomacy throughout Europe)
from Catalan abercoc,
related to Portuguese albricoque,
from (Moorish) Arabic al-birquq,
through Byzantine Greek berikokkia,
from Latin (malum) præcoquum "early-ripening (fruit)" (compare "precocious").
The older Latin name for it was prunum Armeniacum or malum Armeniacum, from its supposed origin in Armenia.
I spent my childhood in Tucson in the 1950s, where a half-assed Spanish pronunciation (cardinal E, accent on the second syllable, but without the flapped R or the voiced interdental fricative D) was standard. Beverly Hills' tony Rodeo Drive in southern California is still pronounced that way.
Other words of Mexican Spanish origin have been rendered nearly unrecognizable, such as "buckaroo" for vaquero, "ba-KEH-ro." And many geographical names have been garbled humorously, such as the Los Angeles suburbs El Monte and La Puente, which should be la monte (mountain) and el puente (bridge). Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!
Separate names with a comma.