Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Pop! Goes The Weasel

Scottish Song By Robert Burns

Pop! Goes The Weasel is an English nursery rhyme often used in Jack-in-the-box toys or to accompany the singing game, musical chairs.

The tune appears to have begun as dance music, to which words were later added. A music sheet acquired by the British Library in 1853 describes a dance, "Pop! Goes the Weasel", as "An Old English Dance, as performed at Her Majesty's And The Nobilities Balls, with the Original Music", a tune very similar to that used today.

The dance became extremely popular, and featured on stage as well as in dance-halls. By September of the same year the title was being used as a scornful riposte and soon words were added to an already well-known tune. The song is mentioned in November 1855 in a Church of England pamphlet where it is described as a universally popular song played in the streets on barrel organs, but with "senseless lyrics".

Perhaps because of the obscure nature of the various lyrics there have been many suggestions for what they mean, particularly the phrase "Pop! goes the weasel".

A spinner's weasel consists of a wheel which is revolved by the spinner in order to measure off thread or yarn after it has been produced on the spinning wheel. The weasel is usually built so that the circumference is six feet, so that 40 revolutions produces 80 yards of yarn, which is a skein. It has wooden gears inside and a cam, designed to cause a popping sound after the 40th revolution, telling the spinner that she has completed the skein.

An alternative meaning involves pawning one's coat (or tailors iron) in order to buy food and drink, as pop is a slang word for pawn (British, informal verb for hock) and weasel is rhyming slang for coat (Weasel and Stoat). A weasel was also a type of iron used by tailors. The monkey on the table could refer to £500, (A monkey is Cockney rhyming slang for £500) and may be a reference to the rent collector.

The Eagle in one verse probably refers to The Eagle freehold pub at the corner of Shepherdess Walk and City Road mentioned in the same verse. The Eagle was rebuilt as a music hall in 1825, demolished in 1901, and then rebuilt as a public house. This public house bears a plaque with this interpretation of the nursery rhyme and the pub's history.

Other than correspondences, none of these theories has any additional evidence to support it. Iona and Peter Opie observed that, even at the height of the dance craze in the 1850s, no-one seemed to know what the phrases meant.


Related Scottish Country Dances

Pop! Goes The Weasel

Pop! Goes The Weasel

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.

Alternative Lyrics

A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle.
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

Round and round the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his socks
And Pop goes the weasel.

Round and round the chestnut tree
The badger chased the weasel.
They ran and ran and had great fun
Pop goes the weasel.

I've no time to plead and pine
I've no time to wheedle
Kiss me quick, and then I'm gone
Pop! Goes the weasel"

All around the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought it all in fun,
Pop, goes the weasel.

The monkey spied the cobbler's shop
The monkey chased the weasel.
The cat thought 'twas all in fun,
Pop, goes the weasel.


Pop! Goes The Weasel Song Video

Pop! Goes The Weasel Song - Information Video
Eagle Pub, City Road, London, Image
The Eagle Pub, City Road, London, 2005
(Note The Rhyme Plaque)


Dance Information licensed under this Creative Commons Licence.
Text from this original Pop! Goes The Weasel article on Wikipedia.
Image Copyright Justinc (Photographer: User:Justinc) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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