Q&A: Phony vs phoney

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re such phonies…

Q: Hey AWC, can we talk about “phony” vs “phoney” please?

A: Let’s guess… you’d like to know which spelling is “phoney” and which is “phony”?

Q: Well, yes.

A: It’s a fair question. But first, it’s worth looking at the origin of the word.

Q: Hold the phone… we’re going on another journey. Maybe related to telephone, right?

A: Wrong number. The telephone was dragged kicking and screaming into the world by Alexander Graham Bell back in 1876 – and it took just eight years for the shortened “phone” to appear. But it wasn’t the origin here.

Q: Then what WAS?

A: The idea of phoney/phony meaning “fake” or “not genuine” first appeared in 1899 and had nothing to do with the ring ring thing.

Q: So, how was it spelt?

A: This adjective was originally spelt “phony” – appearing in a New York jewellery review that had described a crime as: “His most successful swindle was selling ‘painted' or ‘phony' diamonds.”

Q: Ahhh, the old painted diamond trick huh. So, if it wasn’t derived from “phone”, where did that word come from?

A: Good question. Some say it was an alteration of the 18th century word “fawney” – the name for a “gilt brass ring used by swindlers…”

Q: Those sneaky swindlers!

A: Yes, when will they stop their swindling?

Q: So, is “fawney” related to the way someone might “fawn” over someone?

A: Nope, it’s not even related to that. This “fawney” simply came from Irish for “finger” and was a brass ring used to trick people into thinking it was a gold ring.

Q: Okay, so what you’re telling me is that the phony fawney wasn’t related to phone, but still went “ring, ring”?

A: Brass ring, gold ring – yes, very clever.

Q: Well, that original 1899 article settles it – the correct spelling is “phony”, yes?

A: Well, not everywhere.

Q: New phony, who dis?

A: Haha. While North America stayed with the original shortened version “phony”, UK and its colonies (including Australia) added the “e” to create “phoney”.

Q: So, do Americans think that its “phony” to write “phoney”?

A: Absolutely. They’ve always been fans of shortening words and this time, considering they coined it, they can probably own this one. But don’t forget to “add E for England” for everyone else.

Q: Including here in Australia, where we should write “phoney”, correct?

A: Yes, that’s right. Macquarie Dictionary acknowledges the existence of both, but “phoney” is the less phoney of the spellings here.

Q: Time to hang up I think…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

Courses starting soon

Creative Writing Stage 1

Online, 13 July 2020 - $450

Novel Writing Essentials

Online, 13 July 2020 - $695

Short Story Essentials

Online, 13 July 2020 - $345

Travel Writing

Online, 13 July 2020 - $450

SEO Copywriting

Online, 13 July 2020 - $550

Food Writing

Online LIVE, 15 July 2020 - $450

UX/UI Copywriting

Online LIVE, 15 July 2020 - $345

Copywriting Essentials

Online, 20 July 2020 - $550

Plain English Business Writing

Online LIVE, 21 July 2020 - $345

Crime and Thriller Writing

Online LIVE, 27 July 2020 - $450

Browse posts by date

These graduates changed their lives – you can too!

About us

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers courses in creative writing, freelance writing, business writing, blogging and much more. Our practical and industry-proven courses will help you gain confidence and meet your goals faster!

Contact us

Phone: (02) 9929 0088
Email: courses@writerscentre.com.au
Head office: Suite 3, 55 Lavender Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061

© 2020 Australian Writers' Centre | FAQs | Terms, conditions & privacy policy


Back to top ↑

Nice one! You've added this to your cart