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Not on your Nelly : the alternative

Posted by Spurious on April 04, 2003

In Reply to: Not on your Nelly posted by R. Berg on April 02, 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 . . .

: : But who might Nellie Duff have been? Was there ever such a person? Or a purely made-up name?

: A made-up name seems likely.

It is a trunkated expression that meant "not likely" because it was based on the traditional song "Nelly the Elephant" and the full phrase was an expression about being about as likely as riding into town on somebody else's elephant.