The etymological source and history of English phon(e)y‘fake, sham, counterfeit’ have been the subject of speculation and disagreement for over 100 years, and are still problematic. In the present paper, I outline the treatment of phon(e)y in the three editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as well as in more specialised dictionaries, and in the relevant scholarly and popular literature; where appropriate, I make a careful examination of cited documents in the original. I go on to make a critical analysis of all these, adduce new evidence, and advance a coherent theory to account for the data, including heretofore unexplained phonological aspects.