"Whoa, Nelly!” (or “Whoa, Nellie!") is what a rider might say to a horse to get it to stop. Many horses in the 19th century were called “Nelly.” “Whoa, Nelly” has been cited in print since at least 1883.
American sportscaster Keith Jackson became famous for his use of “Whoa, Nellie,” but Jackson confessed in 2011 that he really hadn’t used the expression all that much. The expression now means many things, including “stop” (the original sense) and “wait a minute” and general sense of amazement.
Wikipedia: Keith Jackson
Keith Max Jackson (born October 18, 1928) is a retired American sportscaster, known for his career with ABC Sports (1966–2006), his coverage of college football (1952–2006), his style of folksy, down-to-earth commentary, and his distinctive voice, with its deep cadence, and operatic tone considered “like Edward R. Murrow reporting on World War II, the voice of ultimate authority in college football.”
Jackson has appeared in numerous commercials, especially in the latter stages of his career. He once parodied his broadcast persona for a Bud Light beer commercial, in which he played the officiating minister at a wedding, finishing with his famous line, “Whoa, Nellie!”
The original NELLYBELLE
The Roy Rogers Show, broadcast on television between 1951 and 1957, developed out of the series of B-movies made in the 1930’s and 40’s starring the “King of the Cowboys”. It featured a 1946 Willys CJ-2A Jeep named Nellybelle, which had some unusual bodywork. It was in fact owned by Roy, but was driven in the show by his comic sidekick, Pat Brady. The name apparently developed out of Pat riding an ornery mule in the earlier movies, and addressing it with phrases like “Whoa, Nelly!”
October 1883, The Overland Monthly, ‘Annetta,” pg. 436, col. 2:
“Whoa, Nelly, whoa, lady.”
8 October 1883, Truth (New York, NY), pg. 1, col. 4:
SOMETHING ABOUT PROFESSOR BARTHOLOMEW’S EDUCATED HORSES.
“Truth’s “ Introduction to Nelly—A Deliberative Jurist, at Sight of Whom Real Judges are Nettled—Ladies Who go Wild Over Their Favorite Animals.
“Whoa, Nelly, here’s Truth,” said Professor Bartholomew yesterday morning in the New York Tattersalls, corner of Forty-second street and Broadway. A handsome bay mare had been tranquilly eating hay in its stall turned half round and cast a glance from a pair of beautiful large eyes on the reporter. Nelly is the particular pride of the ladies who attend the Equine Paradox, now exhibiting at the Cosmopolitan Theater, and after being introduced to the star of the troupe Truth was shown the other educated horses.
Gray: An Oldhaven Romance
By Marrion Wilcox
New York, NY: White, Stokes & Allen
“Whoa, Nelly! whoa, Bob!”
The word “whoa” is the word that American use to halt their horses, literally. When horseback riding or with a wagon, you pull on the reins and then say “whoa”. “Nelly” was an old standard mare’s name - not really a name because Farmer’s didn’t often name their work tools, the horse being a work tool, was simply, universally, called Nelly. When you wanted to stop a (female) horse, you’d say, of course, “Whoa Nelly”.
In modern English it’s used to refer to anything (i.e. a car, a bike, a situation) or a person, who has become out of control and gone on ahead and done something unexpected - and then it’s said after the fact to express shock, awe, or merely surprise, at the unexpected behavior.
by espressowhip July 27, 2010
July 14, 2011
Whoa, Nellie: Keith Jackson mystified by longevity of trademark call
By Jim Weber
When people hear the words “Whoa, Nellie!”, they think of one man: Keith Jackson.
But if the retired broadcasting legend had his way, that wouldn’t be the case. In fact, he’s still trying to figure out how the two got so intertwined.
“I never did use it that much, just a couple times when Grease (Bob Griese) and I were (broadcasting) together,” Jackson, now 82, said this week from his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “Bob Griese used it more than I did. I don’t know how that thing got hung on me. The media likes to hang things on you and that was my bad luck, I guess.”
Keith Jackson explains ‘Whoa, Nellie!’
Published on Oct 19, 2013
Keith Jackson joins FOX College Saturday and explains where his famous ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ phrase came from.