The Real McCoy – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to tell someone that the object you are observing, holding or talking about is authentic and the real thing? You could use the common figurative expression ‘the real McCoy’ to indicate to someone what you mean. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression ‘the real McCoy’ is a type of figurative saying that someone can use to indicate that something is authentic, for real, or the real thing.

If you want to tell someone that something is authentic or real, then the expression ‘the real McCoy’ is used to apply.

Someone would say that something is ‘the real McCoy’ as opposed to something that is not.

The term can be used in the denial form as well, to indicate that something is ‘not the real McCoy’ instead.

The term ‘McCoy’ is used to imply that something is as authentic (or as real) as a “real McCoy” would be, even though most people who use the term do not know what a McCoy is.

Sometimes the mistake is used to point out that something isn’t as authentic as something else, or that something is considered to be a fraud.

The term is almost never used in the plural form and someone would almost never say that something is to be ‘the real McCoys’ instead.

Example Usage

“How much did you pay for that pair of shoes? If I had to be honest with you, I would say that you should have know it’s not the real mcCoy from the start.”

“If you’re going to spend three hundred dollars on a trading card, then you should at least contact one or two experts to make sure that you’re forking out the money for the real McCoy.”

“Make sure that you verify what you’re going to buy as the real McCoy, or you should just leave the whole thing and go spend your money where you know that you can get the real thing.”

“If you aren’t sure whether that thing is the real McCoy, then you shouldn’t be spending four hundred dollars on it in the first place. Make sure it’s the real thing before you spend most of your money on it.”


The origin of the term ‘the real McCoy’ to signify something that real, that is authentic or that is not a fraud is reported to come from Scotland.

The term ‘the real McCoy’ is expected to be derived from the saying ‘the real MacKay’ which had been written as a Scottish poem back in the mid-1800s. The saying came to make its way around, where the 1856 poem was later change to ‘McCoy’ instead of the original ‘MacKay’ where the saying came from.

The saying has been used in international advertising campaigns, where it signifies that buyers should watch out for the ‘real thing’ or ‘real McCoy’ instead of any imitation brands.

The expression is something that is more likely in UK English than others.

Phrases Similar to The Real McCoy

  • The Real Thing

Phrases Opposite to The Real McCoy

  • Fake

What is the Correct Saying?

  • [It’s] the real McCoy
  • [It’s not] the real McCoy

Ways People May Say The Real McCoy Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can use the expresssion ‘the real McCoy’ in the wrong way, or misunderstand the meaning of the expression.

The term originated from ‘MacKay’, and either the use of McCoy or McKay is acceptable though the former is the more common way to phrase the saying.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase The Real McCoy

The correct way to phrase the saying ‘the real McCoy’ is to use it in reference to the authenticity or validity of something, saying usually that something either is (or is not) the real McCoy.

Sometimes the term ‘MacKay’ would still be acceptable thanks to the orignal use of the term, but this is rare.

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