or pho·ney

[ foh-nee ]
/ ˈfoʊ ni /
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See synonyms for: phony / phonied / phonies / phonying on Thesaurus.com

adjective, pho·ni·er, pho·ni·est.

not real or genuine; fake; counterfeit: a phony diamond.
false or deceiving; not truthful; concocted: a phony explanation.
insincere or deceitful; affected or pretentious: a phony sales representative.

noun, plural pho·nies.

something that is phony; a counterfeit or fake.
an insincere, pretentious, or deceitful person: He thought my friends were a bunch of phonies.

verb (used with object), pho·nied, pho·ny·ing.

to falsify; counterfeit; fabricate (often followed by up): to phony up a document.



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Origin of phony

1895–1900; perhaps alteration and respelling of fawney (slang) finger ring (<Irish fsptáinne), if taken to mean “false” in the phrase fawney rig a confidence game in which a brass ring is sold as a gold one


pho·ni·ly, adverbpho·ni·ness, noun

Definition for phony (2 of 2)


a combining form used in the formation of abstract nouns corresponding to nouns ending in -phone: telephony.

Origin of -phony

<Greek -phōnia;see -phone, -y3
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


Where does phony come from?

Phony is a word that means “fake” or “made up.” But there is nothing fake about this unusual origin story for the word. While the exact origins of phony are unknown, the word likely comes from an old con known as the fawney rig. Fawney is from an Irish word for “finger ring,” and rig is an old term for a “trick” or “swindle.”

As for how the trick worked, the swindler would “accidentally” drop a piece of cheap jewelry in front of their target. Then, they would pick it up while acting relieved that they hadn’t lost such a supposedly valuable ring. If the scheme was a success, they’d sell it to the target for much more than it was actually worth.

By the 20th century, the spelling of the word was eventually changed from fawney to phony and came to refer to anything fake or counterfeit.

The roots of these other words may get a rise—of laughter or surprise—out of you. Run on over to our roundup of them at “Weird Word Origins That Will Make Your Family Laugh.”

Did you know … ?

  • As you might have guessed from its origin story, phony is unrelated to telephone or other words that use the combining forms -phone and -phony, which are more about sounds.
  • Phony is used in the expression phony war, a term for a fake war or an apparent momentary peace during a war.
  • If something is truly nonsensical, you might go the extra lexical mile and call it phony-baloney.

Example sentences from the Web for phony

British Dictionary definitions for phony (1 of 2)

/ (ˈfəʊnɪ) /

adjective, noun -nier or -niest or plural -nies

a variant spelling (esp US) of phoney

Derived forms of phony

phoniness, noun

British Dictionary definitions for phony (2 of 2)


n combining form

indicating a specified type of soundcacophony; euphony

Derived forms of -phony

-phonic, adj combining form

Word Origin for -phony

from Greek -phōnia, from phōnē sound
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for phony



The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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