Story Behind ‘The Real McCoy’:
Was It Whiskey or Ingenuity?

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Dr. Ben Carson on a TV show brought up the name and memory of inventor Elijah McCoy as the derivation for the phrase “The Real McCoy,” which is used to signify that something is genuine, the real deal (another phrase worth investigating), and generally a word construction signifiying authenticity.

Elijah McCoy

Eljiah McCoy was an engineer of African-American descent who invented, among other things, a lubrication method that facilitated train travel. He also developed designs for an ironing board, a lawn sprinkler, and other devices. His oil-drip cup, the device that facilitated lubrication on trains, was quickly ripped off and employed by competitors using their own variations. His original design, according to legend, however, remained “The Real McCoy.”

That is just one explanation for how the phrase “The Real McCoy” came into existence. Another namesake for the phrase — which I find interesting as a one-time bon vivant of alcoholic beverages (I am Irish, after all) — is a smuggler named Willy McCoy, who brought Irish Whiskey into the U.S. during prohibition. His whiskey reportedly became famous as “The Real McCoy.”

I’ll drink to that, but iced tea only in my teatotaler days.

Categories: Grammar Notes

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