Pop Goes the Weasel

From Academic Kids

This article is about the nursery rhyme. For the hip hop song by 3rd Bass, see Pop Goes the Weasel (3rd Bass song)

"Pop Goes the Weasel" is a nursery rhyme which dates back to 17th-century England, and was spread across the Empire by colonists. The tune is as follows, or a variation:

Missing image
Pop_Goes_the_Weasel_melody.PNG
"Pop Goes the Weasel"

There are many different versions of this song. Most share the basic verse:

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

Or the alternate verses:

Up and down the City road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.


In both England and the English colonies, verses have been added, some humorous and others serious:

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

(Or the above with "cobbler's bench" replaced by "mulberry bush" and "dog, he" replace by "monkey")

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

Interpretations

The original theme of the rhyme seems to have been a darkly humorous portrait of the cycle of poverty of workers in the East End of London. The 'weasel' that goes 'pop' is generally agreed to refer to an item of value that the worker pawns, probably after spending the week's wages (always given on a Saturday) on alcohol.

The origin of the rhyme in the Cockney heartland of Islington offers one type of explanation: Cockney rhyming slang uses the word 'weasel' to mean 'coat' (derived from weasel and stoat), and 'whistle' to mean 'suit' (from whistle and flute). To 'Pop' either means to pawn or to redeem a pawned item. So the rhyme describes the blowing of the week's wages on staples and drink, and the pawning of the workers' only valuable items - the 'Sunday best' clothing - on Sunday evening or Monday morning, to survive until next Saturday's wage packet. The Eagle is a pub on the City Road in London.

Other accounts agree that an item is being pawned, but suggest alternative meanings for the 'weasel': a pressing iron used by tailors and hat makers, or a component of weaving machines. But, assuming the rhyme refers to real experiences, pawning either of these would mean instant ruin to such workers, whereas the Sunday best suit was only needed by the worker for church on Sunday.

It has been suggested that the significance of the rice and treacle is their use in making cheap home-made alcohol. They might otherwise be taken as the 'McDonalds' of their day - cheap and filling subsistence foodstuffs. One piece of research suggests that the pricing of these staples corresponds better to the mid-late 19th century, and that the 'Up and Down the City Road' version is therefore probably the original.

The monkey is believed to be an American innovation, devolving from the word 'money', much as 'weasel' may have devolved from 'whistle'.

"Monkey" is also believed to be a nineteenth century term for a public house drinking vessel.

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