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March 22, 2013

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Picky

Ah, but who the heck was Miss Duff when she was about? Michael Quinion on his wonderful World Wide Words site suggests there may have been no such person, but just two words of – as you say – similar meaning, strung together. Moreover he thinks it possible that the expression was not Cockney but American! His article, 'Alas Poor Nell', is well worth a read.

Jemmy Hope

Duff is, or was, the family name of the Dukes of Fife. Perhaps Nelly, or Helen (etc.), was a prominent member of the family. The thought comes to mind by association. The word 'dutch' ("My old dutch") is shortened from Duchess of Fife, i.e., wife.

john

Susan,

A bit off the "Nelly" subject, but are you familiar with a verb ("spraddle") and more to the point, "catspraddle"?

I heard that for the first time yesterday, googled it and believe it means to straddle. Seems to be Caribbean in origin.

Any clue as to origin and usage? Is it common slang in BrE?

Thanks

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, all. Picky, that's a very interesting article by Michael Quinion. Here it is:
http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/nellie.htm
One thing he doesn't make reference to - and I forgot to mention it myself - was the Liverpudlian pudding wet Nelly, a sort of solid, heavy, bread and butter pudding that can be cut like a cake. I remember my mum making it when I was young.

Jemmy, I've just looked up those Fife aristocrats. The Fife tiara is pretty spectacular:
http://orderofsplendor.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/readers-top-15-tiaras-3-fife-tiara.html

John, I'd never heard those words before. Spraddle is in the OED, which says it is US dialect. It developed from a dialect past participle of the verb to spread (sprad). I googled catspraddle and got a few Barbadian hits, so you're probably right about the origin.

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