View Full Version : Elijah McCoy, the ''real'' McCoy

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
05-29-2002, 10:39 AM
OK, the origin of this phrase is officially unknown. "The Word Detective," (http://www.word-detective.com/) however, gives a reference to the book "Devious Derivations" which has a Top Ten list of theories.

Someone told me a few days ago that they had heard a speaker give an etymology that it was a reference to 19th century Afro-Canadian inventor Elijah McCoy (and somehow it related to the difficulties that Afro-Americans and Afro-Canadians had in getting patents).

Is this one of the Top Ten "Real McCoy" theories, or is this something that the speaker probably just picked up on some circulating "Internet list?"

05-29-2002, 11:13 AM
It's one of the several generally quoted, though not neccesarily related to patent difficulties. You will notice that World Wide Words mentions it along with the others:


Elijah McCoy was real enough and invented a lubricator for steam engines. This site claims he was awarded a patent in 1872, one of 57 he obtained:


In this origin for the phrase, McCoy's oiling device worked so well that people in the locomotive business wanted their engines equipped with the "real McCoy", rather than a raft of devices made by other people, McCoy's patent notwithstanding.

Personally, I'll go for the booze.

05-29-2002, 01:47 PM
Thereal McCoy: http://www.halifaxhistorical.org/mccoy.htm

Capt. William "Bill" McCoy later secured the Arethusa and in a book of his personal reminiscences of his amazing career as king of the rum-runners during prohibition days in the states, constantly refers to her as the finest ship afloat. He was heart-broken when he learned that she had smashed to pieces off Sambro, N. S., after the government had sold it "east down east." The government had "relieved" Bill of the vessel after they caught up with him.

05-29-2002, 04:36 PM
I once wrote a children's book which included a short bio (REAL short) of Elijah McCoy. I debated whether to put in the REAL McCoy story; if true, it's a good one.

What I found out was that nearly every biographical source on Elijah said he was, or was thought to be, or might well have been, the original REAL McCoy. But nearly every book I found on word and phrase origins either omitted Elijah altogether or said it almost certainly wasn't true. I decided that this was in the bailiwick of lexicographers more than biographers...REALly...so...

YMMV, but I left it out.

05-29-2002, 07:34 PM
I have seen people chase round and round the Real McCoy bush before. I have yet to see them get anywhere, except tired. How come nobody mentioned Walter Brennan this time?