Friday, 8 October 2004

Not on your Nellie

A consumer and marketing analysis company called CACI has developed a means of predicting the likely age of someone with a particular first name (UK only). Thus, if you are a Percy or a Horace, you fall into a group with an average age of 75.

Some names are recurring after a fall from fashion: a third of all Emilys are aged over 60, but more than 40% are under 25; many Claras are in their 80s but there are quite a few under 25.

Tracey began to appear about 45 years ago and remained popular for a decade, and Darren was popular for about the same length of time.

Sadly, it seems that Sissie, Bessie and Nellie are hardly ever chosen nowadays, though the latter might have a renaissance if the Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado stays well-known for a while. Just one celebrity, even a C-list one, can have a huge effect on a name’s popularity: Selina suddenly became popular 25 years ago when a woman called Selina Scott achieved modest fame as an announcer.

Footnote about Nellie/Nelly:
The one I remember is the great Nellie Lutcher; I guess that puts me in the same age group as the Percys and Horaces.

The title of this post means not on your life. It was originally not on your Nellie Duff; via rhyming slang duff=puff, then puff=breath, and life and breath are inseparable, as we may gather from Acts, 17,25: He giveth to all, life and breath. Got that? Oh, and puff may be the origin of poof, via powder-puff.

For this supremely useless information I am indebted to Eric Partridge’s marvellous Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Its eighth edition, 1984, has 1400 pages, with treasures on every one. I look forward to writing a post about it soon.

P.S. Perhaps the name was originally made famous by a schooner named Nellie Duff which sank in 1895, but the OED cannot find the phrase not on your nellie in print earlier than 1941..


Chameleon said...

Ah, the wonderful work by Partridge...I purchased a copy of the second edition (1938) from an antiquarian bookseller many moons ago, an impulse buy I never regretted, as it is beyond doubt one of the most entertaining reads ever. I am looking forward to your entry on the subject. If you possess a copy of his Slang To-Day and Yesterday I am most envious.
Just a note on how language changes: if you consult the entry alley, more specifically, to toss in the alley, you will discover that it means to shuffle off one's mortal coil. "Tossing in the alley" to my jaded mind at least does not have quite the same connotations today, conjuring up an entirely different (and highly unsavoury) image.

Tony said...

No, haven't got the other Partridge you mention.
I had decided that when I do a piece on the Dictionary I shall quote a number of entries which sound as though they relate to something lewd but in fact are perfectly respectable; you have given me a lovely one.