adjective, pho·ni·er, pho·ni·est.
noun, plural pho·nies.
verb (used with object), pho·nied, pho·ny·ing.
THINK YOU’VE GOT A HANDLE ON THIS US STATE NICKNAME QUIZ?
Origin of phony
OTHER WORDS FROM phonypho·ni·ly, adverbpho·ni·ness, noun
Words nearby phony
Definition for phony (2 of 2)
BEHIND THE WORD
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.
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
Instead we get phony sanctimony in anticipation of being victimized by charges of racism, which relieves any responsibility to engage such complexities.J.D. Vance’s Senate hopes reveal the problem with performative populism|Greg Sargent|March 19, 2021|Washington Post
The nonprofit says reports about phony pet websites spiked as soon as lockdowns started.
I’d encourage any Republicans who share this goal to leave off with the phony messaging and join us in getting this done.Republicans unite around a message — schools should reopen, and Democrats are to blame|David Weigel|February 18, 2021|Washington Post
At its essence, a Ponzi scheme involves a phony investment in which early investors are paid with the investments of later investors making the enterprise appear legitimate.The History of Ponzi Schemes Goes Deeper Than the Man Who Gave Them His Name|Steve Weisman|August 12, 2020|Time
It just gets a bit phony whenever she wavers and pretends otherwise.
He was arrested trying to flee to Jordan using phony identification.Israeli Claim: Hamas Funded the Kidnapper Who Started the Gaza War|Eli Lake|August 5, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Surely they believe as well that the very concept of an ethnic nation “chosen” by God is phony and unjust.
This single program alone has generated tens of thousands of phony Twitterers.
In 2012, Facebook announced that 83 million profiles—pushing 10 percent of the total number on the site—were phony.
I would even, I decided, stoop to having him thrown in jail on a phony charge, if that should be necessary.Nine Men in Time|Noel Miller Loomis
And you knew, right away, that Swami was a phony from Flatbush.
The Swami was an obvious phony of the baldest fakery, yet he had something.
He had less than a hundred credits, a knife, a deck of phony cards, and a yellow ticket.Police Your Planet|Lester del Rey
Unless the money is phony, or the pass is phony in which case the turnstile locks and all hell breaks loose.The Syndic|C.M. Kornbluth