Posted by R. Berg on September 04, 2001
In Reply to: Not On Your Nellie posted by Peter Pritchard on September 04, 2001
: G'day from Aussie,
: we don't have any strange phrases down under, but what about this bonza old pommy one
: anyone got any ideas?
: Cheers, Pete
Always nice to hear from another part of the world. Eric Partridge says a little about your phrase in "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British":
not on your Nellie! (or Nelly) 'Not on your life!' An intensive
tag, dating since the late 1930s. Used by, e.g., Frank Norman in
his very readable "Bang to Rights," 1958. Short for 'not on your
Nellie Duff!'; and 'Nellie Duff' rhymes on 'puff', breath, breath
of life, life itself.
(Partridge also says that "not on your life!" dates from the late 1880s or perhaps earlier.)
So it seems to have begun as rhyming slang.