Friday, May 31, 2024





A few days ago Kate and I were babysitting our little grandson and Kate was singing Pop Goes the Weasel to him. As I listened, I started wondering what those weird lyrics meant.

I looked it up and found it quite fascinating, so here are some comments.


Video link:

Anthony Newley singing the song, 1963:

Kids’ animated version:



There are various and varied lyrics, the following is common and is the one used for an explanation of the meanings, below:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

Every night when I go out,
The monkey's on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

All around the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel;
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun,
Pop! Goes the weasel.


About the song:

From Wikipedia at:

Pop! Goes the Weasel" is a traditional English and American song, a country dance, nursery rhyme, and singing game that emerged in the mid-19th century. It is commonly used in jack-in-the-box toys and for ice cream trucks.


In the early 1850s, Miller and Beacham of Baltimore published sheet music for "Pop goes the Weasel for Fun and Frolic". This is the oldest known source that pairs the name to this tune. Miller and Beacham's music was a variation of "The Haymakers", a tune dating back to the 1700s. Gow's Repository of the Dance Music of Scotland (1799 to 1820), included "The Haymakers" as country dance or jig. One modern expert believes the tune, like most jigs, originated in the 1600s.

By December 1852, "Pop Goes The Weasel" was a popular social dance in England. On 24 December 1852, an ad in the Birmingham Journal offered lessons in the "Pop Goes The Weasel" dance, described as a "highly fashionable Dance, recently introduced at her Majesty's and the Nobility's private soirees". In January 1853, the Bath Chronicle featured an advertisement from dance master, Mr. T. B. Moutrie, for "instruction in the highly fashionable dances" including "Pop Goes the Weasel". Originally, the dance was an instrumental jig except for the refrain "pop goes the weasel" which was sung or shouted as one pair of dancers moved under the arms of the other dancers.

The popular dance was performed on stage and in stage and dance halls. By late 1854, lyrics were added to the well-known tune. The Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in England and Wales wrote that the song, commonly played by hand–organs on the streets, had "senseless words". In their monthly newsletter, the society referred to the song as "street music" on the level of "negro tunes", saying it was "contagious and pestilent". In another newsletter, the society wrote, "Worst of all, almost every species of ribaldry and low wit has been rendered into rhyme to suit it."

In 1856, a letter to The Morning Post read, "For many months, everybody has been bored to death with the eternal grinding of this ditty on street." Since at least the late 19th century, the nursery rhyme was used with a British children's game similar to musical chairs. The players sing the first verse while dancing around rings. There is always one ring less than the number of players. When the "pop goes the weasel" line is reached, the players rush to secure a ring. The player that fails to secure a ring is eliminated as a "weasel". There are succeeding rounds until the winner secures the last ring.

In America, the tune became a standard in minstrel shows, featuring additional verses that frequently covered politics.

Lyrics and meaning:

There has been much speculation about the meaning of the phrase and song title, "Pop Goes the Weasel".

First verse:

The first verse refers to "tuppenny rice" and "treacle" which are food. At the time, one pound of rice pudding cost two pennies or a tuppenny in slang; treacle is a gooey syrup used as a topper to sweeten the rice pudding. A modern writer has noted, it was "the cheapest and nastiest food" available to London's poor.[6]

Some lyrics in the British version may originate with Cockney slang and rhyming slang.

In the mid-19th century, "pop" was a well-known slang term for pawning something—and City Road had a well-known pawn establishment in the 1850s. In this Cockney interpretation, "weasel" is Cockney rhyming slang for "weasel and stoat" meaning "coat". Thus, to "pop the weasel" meant to pawn your coat. Another early source says weasel was slang for silver-plate cups and dishes or anything of value that was pawnable.

Second verse:

The "Eagle" on City Road in the song's second verse may refer to a famous pub in London. The Eagle Tavern was on City Road, rebuilt as a music hall in 1825, and rebuilt in 1901 as a public house called The Eagle. As one writer concludes, "So the second verse says that visiting the Eagle causes one's money to vanish, necessitating a trip up the City Road to Uncle [the pawn shop] to raise some cash."

Today, The Eagle has the lyrics to this verse painted on a plaque on its fa├žade see phot below).

The Eagle, City Road, London

Third verse:

In the third verse, the monkey may relate to drinking. In the 19th century, sailors called the glazed jugs used in public houses a "monkey". A "stick" was a shot of alcohol such as rum or brandy. To "knock it off" meant to knock it back—or to drink it. The night out drinking used up all the money, conveyed in the lyrics "that's the way the money goes."

Fourth verse:

The fourth verse relates to a tailor and clothing. Purchasing thread and needles may refer to paying for the items needed to work.

Fifth verse:

The meaning of the fifth verse is more elusive. Here, "monkey" may refer to the slang use of the word for money worries, as in "monkey on your back". To be chased by the monkey could mean having money troubles—one way out was to pawn your coat. It also might refer to the actual animal, commonly associated with the organ grinders who played this jig.

Other interpretations:

With some versions and interpretations of the lyrics, "pop goes the weasel" is said to be erotic or ribald, including a crude metaphor for sexual intercourse. In her autobiographical novel Little House in the Big Woods (1932), American author Laura Ingalls Wilder recalled her father singing these lyrics in 1873:

All around the cobbler's bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The preacher kissed the cobbler's wife—
Pop! goes the weasel!!



The origins of the rhyme can be traced back to 17th century England, where it was originally a dance tune. The lyrics were added later, and they tell the story of a poor working-class person struggling to make ends meet.

The lyrics of the song describe the hardships faced by the working class, with lines such as “That’s the way the money goes” and “Every night when I get home, the monkey’s on the table.”

The word “weasel” may represent a pawnbroker, who would “pop” or sell off possessions to make ends meet.

Symbolically, the song can be seen as a commentary on the cyclical nature of poverty and the struggle to escape it. The lyrics depict a never-ending cycle of work, poverty, and indulgence, with the protagonist always one step behind. The catchy tune and playful lyrics may have helped to mask the deeper meaning of the song, allowing it to be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

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