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Re: Not on your Nelly

Posted by R. Berg on March 31, 2003

In Reply to: Not on your Nelly posted by Cedric Barfoot on March 31, 2003

: On BBC News this evening Andrew Marr used a phrase I haven't heard for years and totally unknown to my wife: "Not on your Nelly." The meaning of the phrase is, I believe, "not bloody likely" (but much politer, of course). Any ideas on the origin of the phrase? And is it "Nelly" with a capital N? And who might she have been?

It turns out to be rhyming slang.

From Eric Partridge, "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. . . . Short for 'not on your Nellie Duff!'; and 'Nellie Duff' rhymes on 'puff', breath of life, life itself. . . .

NOT ON YOUR LIFE! Certainly not! Since the late 1880s, or perhaps a few, or not so few, years earlier. It seems to have become, c. 1900, also US . . .