Not the cheese, according to James Ware in his Passing English of a Victorian Era, meant not satisfactory. According to Dr Brewer, it came from the Persian and Hindu word for a thing cheez, but others thought it was a corruption of the French phrase, ce n’est pas la chose. The Irish preferred not up to rap, the rap and abbreviation of rapparee, good for nothing, the name given to worthless base metal coins that circulated in Ireland in the early to mid-18th century.
Not today, baker was said to a youth paying unwanted attention to a young lady, although originally it was said by housewives to bakers making their morning call when their wares were not required.
I have used oh my eye on occasions as a form of exclamation, but I had not realised that it was a corruption of the opening words of the prayer to St Martin, the patron saint of beggars, a mihi.
Another historical character whose name was adopted into slang was Ignatius Pollaky, a consulting detective in the mode of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, based in Paddington Green, who spent decades, until he retired in 1880 at the height of his fame, unravelling swindles and tracking down foreign fugitives. His fame was such, partly fuelled by the enigmatic advertisements he had printed in the newspapers, that his name became a household word, often appearing in newspapers and in popular song and stories. Oh, Pollaky became a form of protest against overbearing and urgent enquiries.
The English have a reputation for being resistant to foreign languages or for mangling foreign phrases. Here are another couple of examples of this trait. Olive oil was a Music Hall variant of the French phrase au revoir and on for a tatur meant fascinated, entranced, used of a man at a bar making eyes at the barmaid, said to be a variant of tête à tête. Some things never change.