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The Origin of 'Phoney' Peter Tamony Xt is strange that the etymology of our most effective modern word for all that is counterfeit, false and unreal has not been the subject ofcontroversy. Several origins have been suggested, but unlike bogus , its counterpart of the last century, phoney has engendered no disputes, and little printer's ink has been used in explaining the genesis of the word. So before any phoney etymologies get too much of a head start, and become too widely known, it is hoped that the definite connection between fawney and phoney, established in the examples cited, reveals the origin of this valuable word. The statement that phoney is derived from the use of the telephone to lure victims to false appointments in order that a criminal operation might be carried on, and the conjectures that connect it with phoo, a term of contempt, andfunny, may be disregarded. Another origin, advanced in Notes & (Queries, and given wide circulation in the syndicated newspaper column of Mr. Walter Winchell, says the word is derived from the name of a manufacturer of cheap jewelry, one Forney, and was common in the East at the turn of the century. It is very probable that the originators of this theory mistook fawney, as developed in the examples of use that follow, for the proper name 'Forney'. Proper names have been used in the cheap jewelry trade to designate the product, and some of them became so widely known that inclusion in dictionaries and glossaries was warranted. Instances of these are Attleborough (Vocabulum, 1859), Lamos (Criminal Slang, 1914), and Bradley (Underworld Speaks, 1935); in England such stuff has been termed Brummagen and Logie (Slang and Its Analogues). [From American Speech, 12 (April 1937), 108-10. Reprinted with the kind permission of the University of Alabama Press.] 102Peter Tamony Forney was a well-known proper name in the latter part of the nineteenth century. But it is not evident that as a name for cheapjewelry it was so general and widely spread that it gave currency to a derivative . Rather, Forney establishes the fact that a pronunciation existed that represents the transition fxomfawney tophoney. Frank Tarbeaux (see 1930 example) construes correctly the meaning offorney in the advice given him by his father. His assertion of usage in the eighteen-seventies further precludes the possibility of derivation, and even coincidental support, from the proper name. It will be noticed that considerable attention is devoted to the definition and development of thefawney rig. The intention is to show the various forms under which this swindle was operated over a century , and to indicate its established and solid position in the language and practice of criminals. Synonymous with ring-dropping since the middle of the nineteenth century, it is very much alive today and is worked in all sorts of guises. The Pocket Book Trick, a race-horse and stock swindle, is one of the variations of the last thirty years, and the most profitable form this "something for nothing" scheme has ever taken. One or two curiosities in the examples of usage may be cited. The Parney of Matsell (1859) is evidently his understanding ofthe pronunciation offawney by the English criminals and immigrant Irish who thronged New York during his service as Chief of Police. Matsell does not definefawney, but the word occurs in a poem he cites as an example of criminal verse. That p seems to have been understood for /in colloquial usage, and that understanding persisted until it gained the ascendancy as indicated in the examples from 1893 on. Messrs. Jackson and Hellyer, whose Criminal Slang (1914) is an invaluable contribution to the literature of American slang, used phoney in defining Lamos. They evidently knew nothing of the criminal usage ofphoney as they do not define it. Their use in a definition, however , indicates the widespread and current use of the word before the World War. Examples of use after 1925 are hardly necessary. The word abounds in the pages of newspapers, in popular literature, and is a favorite of Variety. 1781 There is a large shop in London where these kind of rings are sold for the purpose of going on the fawney...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 101-105
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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