The Real McC(K)oy?

Have you ever wondered which or who, in fact, is “the real McCoy” or is it “McKoy?” And what is the origin of this most common expression? Well, I should know, shouldn’t I?

Though the newspaper’s proofreader misspells it occasionally, my name is actually “McCoy” with a “C,” not a “K.” And no, I am not related to the former Contractor General, Derrick McKoy, nor to the surgeon, Stewart McKoy in St. Ann’s Bay, though I certainly would be proud to be.

Is he the real McCoy?
Is he the real McCoy?

What? You ask. I am not a Jamaican? And again, no, I am not Jamaican, though again I would certainly be proud to be so born, but as such, discovering who I really am has been something of a surprise to many people, given all the letters I write to The Gleaner. In truth I am neither Jamaican nor even an African American, but instead more or less a sixth generation American (or North American, if you like) a Protestant-Scotch-Irish descendant of distinctly European, mid-19th Century immigrants to the U.S.

Now that that’s settled, I ask again who is this “real McCoy,” or “real McKoy” if you like and what is the truth of the origin of this expression? Naturally it’s a question I’ve been inclined to explore, given my family history and so on, and from what I’ve learned, no one seems ready to agree.

Three likely candidates, however, do surface for consideration, two commonly printed with a “C” and one with a “K.”  So, first let’s consider the most likely “Mc-something.”

Joseph McCoy was the mid-19th Century founder of the town of Abilene, Kansas, and a wealthy cattle baron, who, it was said, always made good on his promise to deliver longhorn cattle up the famous “Chisholm Trail” to the rail heads of Kansas for shipment across the United States.

Then there is the turn-of-the-19th Century, African-American engineer and inventor, Elijah McCoy, also with a “C,” who among other things invented a most  important industrial device, a lubricating cup, designed for the continuous oiling of machinery with moving metal parts. Apparently, with his invention, the machines worked so well that anything that worked well was called the “real McCoy.”

Finally, there was a less likely but most infamous boxer to whom some have attached the “real” expression, “Kid McKoy,” actually born Norman Selby, whose particular “right cross” was as surprisingly devastating as were the outcomes of his other adventures. As it happens he was also something of a jewel thief, scam artist, and one of the most married men in American history. Note his name is commonly spelled, as it is in Jamaica, with a “K.”

Well, with “C” or “K” it seems at least some of us “Mc-whicheveryoulikes” have and probably will continue to have a significant and “real” place in history.

As for myself, I am not yet quite famous, but as far as Jamaica is concerned, I am proud to have some association of almost four decades, having been a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer there, a Mathematics teacher at a St. Ann Parrish high school and a computer director at a Kingston private school, in addition, of course, to be the writer of several “letters of the day” and nearly one hundred opinion page letters in the past five years.

For what it’s worth, the finest compliment I have ever received is most likely to have been mistaken for being “Jamaican” and in fact I have always considered that at least as equally important as being one of the truly “real” people.

Ed McCoy
Bokeelia, Florida

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