Pop Goes the Weasel

Pop Goes the Weasel

"Pop Goes the Weasel" is a jig, often sung as a nursery rhyme, that dates back to 17th century England, and was spread across the Empire by colonists. The song is also associated with jack-in-the-box toys (when the song gets to "pop" the "jack" pops up). The tune or melody is as follows, or a variation:


There are many different versions of the lyrics to the 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 alternative verses:

:"All around the Mulberry Bush,:"The monkey chased the weasel.:"The monkey stopped to pull up his sock," (or "The monkey stopped to scratch his nose):"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"Half a pound of tuppenny rice,:"Half a pound of treacle.:"Mix it up and make it nice,:"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"Up and down the city road," (also seen as "Up and down the King's Highway):"In and out the Eagle,:"That’s the way the money goes,:"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"For you may try to sew and sew,:"But you'll never make anything regal,:"That’s the way the money goes,:"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"The monkey and the weasel fought,:"The weasel's really feeble,:"The monkey punched him in the face,:"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"Every time when I come home:"The monkey's on the table,:"Cracking nuts and eating spice:"Pop! goes the weasel.

:"Every time when I come home:"The monkey's on the table,:"Take a stick and knock it off:"Pop! goes the weasel.

Contemporary verses in the United States consist of mainly these two:

:"All around the mulberry bush" (or "cobbler's bench):"The monkey chased the weasel;:"The monkey thought 'twas all in fun, (or '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.

Origins and interpretation

Due to the obscure slang and cryptic reference "pop goes the weasel", there is considerable dispute over the rhyme's meaning.

While the rhyme certainly originated in England, the meaning of the terms in the first verse with which people are familiar in the U.S. is well established. In the late nineteenth century the technology for weaving on large rack looms was brought to the United States from England. Along with it came a traditional work song. The verse mentioning weasels and monkeys is quite specifically about the children employed to sit inside these huge industrial loom-machines and chase the loom shuttle around, unsticking it when it went awry and correcting any mis-weaves that resulted. Thus the children hopped around like monkeys chasing the shuttle which reminded workers of a weasel as it threaded its way in and out of the narrow passages between the rack levels. The pop sound is clearly the sharp whack - whack - whack as the large shuttle paddles at each side of the loom slapped the shuttle back and forth each time the racks reversed position.

The original theme seems to have been a darkly humorous vignette of the cycle of poverty among workers in the environs of London. The "weasel" may refer to a spinner's weasel, a mechanical yarn measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with an internal ratcheting mechanism that clicks every two revolutions and makes a "pop" sound after the desired length of yarn is measured. "Pop goes the weasel", in this meaning, describes the repetitive sound of a machine governing the tedious work of textile workers toiling for subsistence wages. In the context of the rhyme then the first three lines of each verse describe various ways of spending one's meager wages, with "pop goes the weasel" indicating a return to unpleasant labour.

Alternatively (and, which is perhaps more likely for a poem from the East End of London), if "pop goes the weasel" is taken as Cockney rhyming slang, the "weasel" that goes "pop" is an item of value that the worker pawns, probably after spending the week's wages (always given on a Saturday). The "serious" Cockney uses "pop" to mean pawning or the redeeming of a pawned item, while the word "weasel" means "coat" (derived from "weasel and stoat"). Cockney slang also uses 'pop' to mean 'go away' ("Pop off!") or 'to hit' ("I'll pop you one!"). Another possibility is that "weasel" is a corruption of "whistle" and means "suit" (in this case being derived from "whistle and flute"). In either interpretation, the rhyme describes the pawning of the worker's only valuable items - the "Sunday best" clothing - after exhausting the week's wages on the food items such as rice and treacle, which, though cheap, were and are fundamentally useless to anyone if the buyer is poor and has nothing to eat them with. It is thought, however, that early "quack" doctors would have prescribed treacle as a sort of medicine, and gullible purchasing workers that were prone to illness due to exposure would doubtless have spent their savings on trying to maintain their and their children's health.

"The Eagle" in the poem is more readily identifiable as a Public house on the City Road in London. It stands on the site of the former "Royal Eagle Tavern" Music hall and pleasure grounds. Needless to say, it too is a means by which money is lost.

"Monkey" is believed to be a nineteenth century term for a public house drinking vessel. A "stick" is a shot of alcohol, while "knock it off" is to drink it. Therefore, this is a description of drinking in the pub. The later reference in the song to the monkey chasing people around the workplace might well describe longing for a drink while working, or perhaps while penniless right before payday. Alternatively, it could be simply to miss the point of the presence of other "animals" such as weasels and eagles within the rhyme, and that whoever added the "monkey" was simply trying to make it more nonsensical. Nevertheless, within the little-sung verse that goes:

:"Every time when I come home:"The monkey's on the table,":"Take a stick and knock it off":"Pop goes the weasel"

If taken literally, it too is a means by which one would doubtless lose money. However, if the monkey does indeed represent the alcohol, or the container for it, then its "eating" nuts and spice could be seen as its dominating the narrator's life and therefore taking the place of staple food. In either case, it demonstrates a somewhat expensive lifestyle, if the narrator is indeed to be recognised as poor working class.

Sometimes the third line of the most common verse is sung as "That's the way the money goes round".

References in fiction

The Railway Series

The Railway Series by the Revd W. Awdry is not known for its songs, but the books' author chose to use the well-known rhyme format for a version that was probably a hidden lesson about boasting.

In "Duck and the Diesel Engine" (vol 13 of the series), the visiting engine "Diesel" hauls a rake of condemned vans from a siding by mistake, and lurches forward ('pops') when a rusty coupling breaks. While Diesel clears up the mess he hears the trucks making fun of him with this song: [cite book
last =Awdry
first =Rev. W.
authorlink =W.V. Awdry
title ="Duck and the Diesel Engine"
work = (vol 13)
publisher =Edmund Ward
pages =p32
id =ISBN 0 7182 1050 6

:"Trucks are waiting in the Yard;:"Tackling them with ease'll,:"Show the world what I can do,":"Gaily boasts the Diesel."

:"In and out he creeps about,:"Like a big black weasel.:"When he pulls the wrong trucks out –:"Pop goes the Diesel!

Some years later, Awdry reprised the song with another version in "Oliver the Western Engine" (vol 24). This time, the steam engine "Oliver" ends up bunker-down in the well of a turntable (hence the reference at the end of the song) when his ballast train runs out of control. After Oliver returns from repair, more trucks, led by S.C.Ruffey, tease him with this song: [cite book
last =Awdry
first =Rev. W.
authorlink =W.V. Awdry
title ="Oliver the Western Engine"
work = (vol 24)
publisher =Kaye & Ward
pages =p32
id =ISBN 0 7182 0051 9

:"Oliver's no use at all;:"Thinks he's very clever.:"Says that he can manage us;:"That's the best joke ever!

:"When he orders us about,:"With the greatest folly,:"We just push him down the well –:"Pop - goes old Ollie!

When the stories were filmed for the "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" TV series, re-using the songs was an obvious move, with the Troublesome Trucks leading the singing. (NB - for the re-dubbed American version, some of the wording was changed - eg 'trucks' replaced by 'cars').

The Three Stooges

In the Three Stooges short subject "Punch Drunks", Curly Howard is a mild mannered simpleton who goes into a fighting frenzy when he hears the song. Moe becomes his manager whilst Larry plays the tune on his fiddle that make him a champion boxer. The tune was played in the title credits of their "Pop Goes the Easel". The gag was reused in the feature film "The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze" with Curly-Joe DeRita becoming combative when he hears the song.

Anthony Newley

A version recorded by Anthony Newley achieved number 12 in the UK charts in 1961.

Andy Kaufman

Used "Pop Goes the Weasel" as a karaoke 'stage prop'. Walking on to the stage with a record player, Andy would place the needle on the record and while playing "Pop Goes the Weasel", would anxiously listen to the verses waiting for the chorus. He would then mouth the chorus and return to his restless anxiety and fidgeting, waiting for the next "Pop Goes the Weasel!". When the song was finished, Andy would gently take the needle off the record and carry the record player off stage. Not a single word was actually spoken during the entire skit. He did a similar skit using the theme from "Mighty Mouse"

"The Prisoner"

"Pop Goes the Weasel" is also prominently featured in the 1960s television series "The Prisoner". An instrumental version is part of the soundtrack of several episodes (most notably the premiere episode "Arrival"), and in "Once Upon a Time" the lead character Number Six, whose mind has been reverted to childhood, begins singing the song, but is goaded by his nemesis, Number Two, who turns the word "Pop" into an acronym for "Protect Other People", leading the two to yell "Why POP?" at each other.

The "Pop Goes the Weasel" theme is further explored in the graphic novel "Shattered Visage".

America Sings

America Sings was a former audio-animatronic show at Disneyland park. A cartoonish weasel would pop out of the top of the stage and say "Pop Goes the Weasel! Hee-hee-hee!" It was a recurring gag throughout the show, and a favorite among children.

Little House In The Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Pa plays the song for Laura and Mary as a special birthday treat on his fiddle. The girls try to catch his finger plucking 'pop' on the string, and almost , but not quite catch him doing so." Pop! " (said Pa's finger on the string)Goes the weasel" (sang the fiddle plain and plain) "

I Am Weasel

"I Am Weasel" was a Cartoon Network series inspired by Pop Goes the Weasel.cite|date=September 2008

Tell me your dreams

A novel by Sidney Sheldon incorporates the rhyme as a reminder of the main character's childhood (Ashley). Ashely's childhood forms the foundation for the present day in the novel, and every time Ashley recites a verse from the rhyme there is a flashback to her childhood.

Robin Williams

A line from one of his shows: "Let's put Mr. Hamster in the microwave! [short pause] (sings) Pop! goes the weasel!"

The Backyardigans

In the Backyardigans Episode Save The Day, Tasha sings a song "I'll catch a Whopper!" to the tune. In addition, she whistles the tune several times, seemingly to herself, throughout the episode, which helps the other characters in the story to locate her.

The Clique

In the second book, Best Friends for Never, Dylan and and Kristen tape a cellphone under Derrington's seat at the OCD Fashion Week, and when they start calling, the ringtone is Pop Goes the Weasel.


In the first episode of the 1987-1994 science fiction television series , Commander William Riker meets the android Lieutenant Commander Data in the ship's holodeck. Riker encounters Data just as Data is attempting to whistle the last line of "Pop Goes the Weasel". Data, being an android, has not mastered whistling at this early point in the series and cannot whistle the last line in proper tune. Riker corrects him by whistling the last line properly and then introduces himself. In the film Star Trek Nemesis, Riker recalls this incident, but is unable to remember the tune that Data was attempting to whistle.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

In the 1991 film starring Kevin Costner, Will Scarlett (played by Christian Slater), mockingly sings to Robin Hood (to the tune of "Pop! Goes the Weasel" while concealed within the trees in Sherwood Forest:

"There was a rich man from NottinghamWho tried to cross the riverWhat a dope! He tripped on a rope!Now look at him shiver!"

The Neverhood

In the Neverhood computer game, Klaymen uses the music-box which plays Pop Goes the Weasel tune. Upon playing, a large greenish creature called Weasel escapes from the closed cave and tries to catch Klaymen.

Dragon Ball Z

In the Dragon Ball Z anime series, Frieza sings "Pop Goes the Weasel" after killing Krillin.


In Episode 14, Series 2 of the action spy series, a woman is thrown out of a van with a bomb strapped to her. She sings the rhyme a number of times and then explodes on the "Pop".

The Jon Dore Television Show

The titular star of the show claims that the song is an American classic.

Godfather Part II

When Frankie Pentangeli tries to get the band to play the Tarantella, they played Pop Goes the Weasel instead.

Insomnia by Stephen King

The bad guys in this book sing a verse from this song frequently

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

The episode name for the skit Murder, She Wrote 2008 is "Pop Goes The Weasel... OF DEATH!".

References in music

* "Pop Goes The Weasel" is a about Vanilla Ice by the American rap group 3rd Bass. Released in 1991, it is taken from their album "Derelicts Of Dialect".
* "Pop Goes The Weasel" is a song by Mark Knopfler on his 2007 album "Kill To Get Crimson".
* There was a song sung in the television series "Gullah Gullah Island" entitled 'Ssh...It's a secret', which was sung to the tune of this song.
* In the opening musical number of the film "Duck Soup", Groucho Marx refers to the song in a couple of lines referring to execution by firing squad: "We stand 'im up against the wall / And 'pop' goes the weasel!"
* The tune is a recurring part of the underscore of the Warner Bros. cartoon, "A Pest in the House".
* "Pop Goes The Weasel" is the beginning of the song "out comes the evil" from Lords of Acid. It appears on the album VooDoo-U (1993 Antler Subway Records)


External links

* http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20050718_river18.76dc0a0.html
* http://www.museum.appstate.edu/exhibits/furniture/pages/weasel.shtml
* [http://xenia.media.mit.edu/~kristin/songbook/ClassicKids/PopGoesTheWeasel.html Extensive lyrics, with chords, on Kristin's site at MIT]
* [http://www.kididdles.com/mouseum/p009.html Children's mouseum presentation]
* [http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pop1.htm World Wide Words, Michael Quinion: POP GOES THE WEASEL (June 2004)]
* [http://hansolo.f-sw.com/midi_pd/popgoesweasel_suggest0.mid Midi file] of "Pop Goes The Weasel"

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