Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Real McCoy

Who was the First "Real McCoy"
By Alison Bruce

If English was a dog, it would be a mutt. Not only a mutt, but one that is constantly stealing words, like bones, from other dogs and calling them his own. Clever dog; capable of declaiming Shakespeare, Penny Dreadfuls and catch phrases.

The latest catch phrase that caught my attention was "the real McCoy." So I looked it up. Of course, there was controversy.

Okay, no one seriously suggested Dr. Leonard McCoy of Star Trek. At least, I don't think they were serious. Clockwise from Dr. McCoy is Bill McCoy, a prohibition era smuggler.
"McCoy took pride in the fact that he never paid a cent to organized crime, politicians, or law enforcement for protection. Unlike many operations that illegally produced and smuggled alcohol for consumption during Prohibition, McCoy sold his merchandise unadulterated, uncut and clean." - Wikipedia
His merchandise was "the real McCoy" but the phrase dates back to the nineteenth century.

The next one clockwise is Elijah McCoy. Free born, in Colchester Ontario, 1844, his parents escaped slaves, he lived in the right period. He apprenticed as an engineer in Scotland. When he returned to his family, now living in Michigan, the only job he could get was as fireman and oiler with Michigan Central Railroad. In his home workshop, he invented a better automatic oiling system, which he patented. He continued to improve it and invent other devises like the folding ironing board and the lawn sprinkler.
Other companies copied his devices, but these never worked as well as Elijah's so people would say, "I want a -- , and make sure it's a real McCoy." - UK Guardian Online

The only problem with this theory is that Elijah McCoy didn't manufacture anything under his own name until 1920. Likewise, another candidate, American world champion boxer, Charles "Kid" McCoy (who was born Norman Selby in 1872) was just a kid when the phrase was first published.

Which brings me to my favourite:

Joseph Geating McCoy

Not mentioned on any of the answer pages, I learned about “The Real McCoy” watching The Adventure of the English Language, a BBC documentary series. There, he was not only credited with coining the phrase, but for shaping the character of the old west. He did it with one simple idea: transporting cattle by train.

In a nutshell, McCoy was a livestock trader looking to make his fortune. He knew Texas had cattle, which was going cheap. He knew Kansas farmers didn't want Texas longhorns anywhere near their eastern cattle. The longhorns carried a tic that carried a disease the longhorns were immune to but killed less hardy breeds. He also knew that railroads wanted to cash in on their investment by hauling more freight.

McCoy bought a village on the rail line, near the end of the Chisholm Trail. He built a hotel, stockyard, office and bank and called it Abilene. The trail lay to the west of the Kansas farms which meant the cattlemen could use it without hostility from the Kansas homesteaders.
In 1867, McCoy spent $5,000 on advertising and riders. He promised a good price for cattle sold in Abilene and was a man of his word. One cattleman bought 600 cows for $5,400 and sold them in Abilene for $16,800. It was the beginning of the 'beef bonanza'. Between 1867 and 1881 McCoy sent more than 2 million cattle from Abilene to Chicago. His reputation for reliability gave rise to the expression 'the real McCoy'.
 Joseph styled himself "The Real McCoy." Since his business relied on his word, it makes sense that he would turn such a neat phrase.

1 comment:

Caroline Clemmons said...

I've always wondered about the phrase, but never looked it up. Thanks for all the info.