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I was under the impression that Phoney, as popularised by JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, was referencing the manner of voice people tend to adopt when on the phone. There is certainly a correllation between usage and the spread of the telephone, but I am no etymologist.

Telephones and phoniness[edit]

The first attested usage of "phoney" in print is reportedly 1899, by George Ade. Bell called his device a telephone (appropriating a word that dates back to 1835 as a French word for a signalling device) from about 1876. The problem is that the artificial-manner etymology should be a widely mentioned one if it might be the origin. The term seems to have its origins in social classes that could not afford telephones in 1902. It was not especially used in reference to telephones. A "fawney" (or "fawny") was probably used in the manner of the inexpensive replica designer watches that can be bought on the streets of many cities around the world.

Many searches for etymologies do not have satisfying conclusions. This may be one of them. DCDuring TALK 20:53, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Marshall McLuhan, in "Understanding Media", 1964, MIT Press, p 265, says the term is defined as "The lack of real substance inherent in a telephone conversation" and cites an appearance of this meaning from the New York Evening Telegram 1904. 23:38, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
Chambers suggests it might be from Irish fáinne (ring), "from the old practice of tricking people into buying gilt rings which they believed to be genuine gold". Equinox 23:41, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
The OED suggests that it is a variant of fawney ("an old, stale trick, called ring-dropping" according to George Parker in Life's painter of variegated characters in public and private life in 1789), and cites a possible first usage of the modern spelling from a letter of 1862: "B. Moody Let. 25 Apr. in M. Lane Dear Mother (1977) 116/2 They keep skirmishing along the line. I will tell you of a phoney scrape and also a serious one, too." If this was just a mis-spelling, then the earliest usage would be from the Chicago Tribune in 1893 (29 June page 6 column 2): "Many of the ‘phony’ bookmakers in the ring had not enough play to keep them alive." This agrees with the Chambers suggestion above. In 2011, volume 109 of The Transactions of the Philological Society discussed this etymology. Does anyone have access to this journal? Dbfirs 21:46, 9 February 2014 (UTC)