June 14 is Pop Goes the Weasel Day

pop goes the weasel day

Today is Pop Goes the Weasel Day, celebrating the rhyme we’ve known since childhood and the tune that sticks in our heads every time we hear it played on an ice cream truck. But what does the song mean? pop goes the weasel dayThe short answer is that it’s probably nonsense verse made popular (no pun intended) because children enjoyed shouting, “Pop!” It’s believed to have originated in the 1700s in England, but the first official version of the song wasn’t published there until the 1850s. Within a few years, it had jumped the pond and appeared in Boston and New York newspapers.

The British version had many variations but usually shared these basic verses:

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

Every night when I get home
The monkey’s on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
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.

The first verse seems to refer to cheap rice and treacle, a molasses-based syrup. Several British slang dictionaries agree that “monkey” represented £500, a tidy sum in those days. The Eagle most likely refers to the name of a pub on City Road in London. Today it displays a plaque endorsing this interpretation of the verse.

Is “Pop Goes the Weasel” about a dad who takes the money meant to put better food on the table and heads to the pub to drink it away? Maybe, maybe not. What does any of this have to do with a weasel and why does it pop? Theories abound:

  1. It refers to a dead weasel. Weasels pop their heads up when alarmed. Apparently, things did not go well for this one.
  2. A “Spinner’s weasel” is a spoked reel that measures yarn and makes a popping sound to indicate the desired length, usually a skein, has been reached.
  3. In English (usually Cockney) rhyming slang, “weasel” is short for “weasel and stoat,” which stands for “coat, ” usually a fancy one to wear to church on Sunday.
  4. “Pop” stands for “pawn.”

This leaves us with a dead rodent, a woman—sorry to reinforce gender norms, but that’s how it was—working her fingers to the bone spinning yarn and/or a man who spends so much on beer that he has to pawn his coat on Monday morning, then work all week so he can buy it back to wear on the following Sunday.

Soon after “Pop Goes the Weasel” came to the U.S. in the 1850s, it began to change. Today, its lyrics vary but tend to contain some permutation of the following:

All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought ’twas all in good sport,
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.

Jimmy’s got the whooping cough
And Timmy’s got the measles.
That’s the way the story goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Even if we can’t agree on the words and their meanings (or lack thereof), we all remember bits of that first verse and the tune is universal. What does it remind you of? We think of warm summer days playing tag and running after the ice cream truck.

Happy Pop Goes the Weasel Day. And to all you weasels: Let’s be careful out there.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

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