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 . . .