- Something bona fide, the genuine article, the real thing is sometimes spoken of as the Real McCoy. It could be said to be Simon Pure, which likewise means the genuine or real thing. But the story behind the Real McCoy has a stronger punch. It should be borne in mind that so many theories concerning the origin of the Real McCoy have been advanced that, if all were recorded, they would fill pages. H. L. Mencken, who included at least a half-dozen in his writings, observed ironically that "the origin of this term has been much debated and is still unsettled."Eric Partridge said he was certain the term referred to the excellent whiskey that A. and M. McKay of Glasgow, exporters of Scotch, sent to the United States. McCoy was a slang term for good whiskey at the turn of the century, and Partridge's theory in From Sanskrit to Brazil (1950) stated that the Real McKay was later "transformed to the real McCoy, first under the impact of the hero worship that, in the late 1890s, accrued to boxer Kid McCoy and then accrued, at least in New York State, to bootlegger Bill McCoy."A rival distillery of the McKay clan used the name "clear McCoy," and their product was considered superior to American brands. The most popular story concerning the origin of the real McCoy is one that involves a pugilist named Norman Selby, whose fighting name was Kid McCoy. That Selby was the Real McCoy was supposed to have been established in an American saloon. Kid McCoy became involved in a brawl with another barroom patron who refused to believe that he was talking with the great fighter, saying, "You are a fake." The Kid, angered, slugged the doubter on the jaw, who, while rubbing his jaw from his seat in the sawdust, exclaimed, "You're the Real McCoy, all right." Norman Selby, born in 1873 in Indiana to parents who were farmers, ran away from home and began fighting under the name Kid McCoy in 1891. Six years later, the Kid fought the world's welterweight champion, Tommy Ryan, and slugged him to defeat. The Kid now had the crown and continued a successful ring career until he fought Gentleman Jim Corbett and, as they say, bit the canvas. It was widely believed that the fight was fixed, and the Kid's reputation was therefore irreparably damaged. Selby was married ten times, three times to the same woman. In 1924 he was convicted of a manslaughter charge in the death of his married lover. After serving a prison sentence of nine years, he worked for the Henry Ford Company in a security capacity for its gardens. In 1940, Selby decided that he had had his last fight—with life. He committed suicide.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.
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