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wuxtry

Pop Go–eth Ye Weasel!

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I passed one of those sidewalk rides recently and it was playing "Pop Goes the Weasel." The kids who ride on those things probably think of it as a nonsense-song, just as I did. But now, hearing it again, I felt that some of the lines were probably something more than pure nonsense. I searched the Internet and read several articles about the song, which is over 100 years old. It seems to have a great many versions, some long and some short; I found 22 verses, though not all in one place. Many of them ARE just nonsense--but not all. It's ironic that children--those who like the song best and would be interested in what it means--are those least likely to know! Here I've picked out just the few verses that contain important and non-obvious references, and greatly condensed the discussions of it that I've found on the Net. I'm sure there are some among you--especially in England--to whom this won't be news.

Apparently the song originally dealt with the life of garment workers in 19th-century working-class London. One old meaning of "weasel" was a device used by tailors and weavers, which held a spool and sometimes made a popping sound.

A penny for a spool of thread,

A penny for a needle;

That's the way the money goes--

Pop goes the weasel!

You may try to sew and sew

And never make anything regal,

So roll it up and let it go--

Pop goes the weasel!

Thus they spent their money on supplies for work; also on living and supporting children. Cheap foods like rice and treacle were a major part of their diet, and were also ingredients of homemade alcohol.

Johnny's got the whooping cough

And Mary's got the measles;

That's the way the money goes--

Pop goes the weasel!

Half a pound of tupenny rice

And half a pound of treacle;

Mix it up and make it nice--

Pop goes the weasel!

On Saturdays they would spend much of their wages drinking in pubs and taverns. A "monkey" was a kind of drinking-glass used in such pubs; a shot of liquor was a "stick," and drinking it was "knocking it off."

Every night when I go out,

The monkey’s on the table;

Take a stick and knock it off--

Pop goes the weasel!

The Eagle was a famous 19th-century pub located on City Road in London's East End, with a pawnbroker's shop nearby. After spending their money in the pub, they would have to pawn something--often a coat--until the next payday. "Weasel" was also a slang term for a coat, and to "pop" meant to pawn.

Up and down the City Road,

In and out of the Eagle;

That’s the way the money goes--

Pop goes the weasel!

Thus the "cobbler"--the garment worker or other laborer--was pulled back and forth between the world of the weasel (spool or coat) and that of the monkey (drinking-glass)--with the latter usually winning:

All around the cobbler's bench

The monkey chased the weasel;

The monkey thought 'twas all in fun--

Pop goes the weasel!

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I wonder if you're getting your rhymes mixed up? The mulberry bush features in "Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, Here we go round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth, etc., etc...."

but not in "Pop Goes The Weasel", as far as I know.

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I wonder if you're getting your rhymes mixed up? The mulberry bush features in "Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, Here we go round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth, etc., etc...."

but not in "Pop Goes The Weasel", as far as I know.

No, actually, the verse poetrychick posted with the mulberry bush is the one I remember too.

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^^^^Same here, the lyrics that are in the first post, I've never heard of....but a very interesting story I must say...

Actually now that I think about it... I remember it as:

All around the shoemaker's bench, the monkey chased the weasel....(not mulberry bush, which is another song, that B-F mentioned)

Edited by Guest

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Hmmm maybe it was cobbler's bench that we sang...I asked hubby how he remembered it, he says...cobbler's bench... :)

"Cobbler's" would scan better; "shoe-maker's" seems a bit of a mouthful to me. I suppose, it doesn't matter that much really, since they're synonymous.

Edited by Guest

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"The earliest reference I can find to music with this name actually comes from the United States, from sheet music entitled “Pop goes the Weasel for Fun and Frolicâ€, published in 1850 by Messrs Miller and Beacham of Baltimore. Another from three years later refers to “the latest English dance†and also “an old English Dance lately revivedâ€, so it seems to have been imported from Britain. None of these early versions had any lyrics apart from a repeated “Pop goes the weaselâ€, the catch line of the dance, which was sung or shouted by the dancers as one pair of them darted under the arms of the others. Several references in books and magazines suggest that the tune soon became extremely well known, and that pop goes the weasel became a catchphrase, as it later did in Britain. There have been suggestions that the phrase was intended to be ribald or erotic, though the explanations I’ve seen are somewhat fanciful.

Following first publication of this article, David Joyce wrote that: “The tune is a version of that used for the country dance, The Haymakers, which has the same form as Strip the Willow, and Bab at the Bowster (a couple hold hands, forming a bridge, which the other couples have to pass under). The tune was published in Gow’s Repository, issued in four volumes between 1799 and 1820. Thus the tune was around at least half a century before the American publication of Pop Goes The Weasel, but is certainly very much older. (It is similar to the tune used for Humpty Dumpty, and not far removed from Lilliebulero and Rock A-bye Baby, all jigs traceable back to the seventeenth century.)â€

The first British mention of the phrase pop goes the weasel dates from an advertisement by Boosey and Sons of 1854 which described “the new country dance ‘Pop goes the weasel’, introduced by her Majesty Queen Victoria†(a puff to be taken with a large pinch of salt, we may assume). It would seem from the dates that the title was taken from the American publication of 1850.

Talking of Queen Victoria, I found these words attached to the tune in the March 1860 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, Virginia:

Queen Victoria’s very sick,

Prince Albert’s got the measles.

The children have the whooping cough,

And pop! Goes the weasel. Her Majesty would not have been amused.

Your version was a British music-hall song of the latter part of the Victorian period (quite when I haven’t been able to discover); it is highly probable that the words were composed to the tune of the earlier dance because everyone on both sides of the Atlantic seems to have the same one, even if the words are different.

Some of the references are now quite opaque, but we can take a fair shot at a few. In the second verse, the City Road was—still is—a well-known street in London, more than a mile long. The Eagle was a famous public house and music hall, which lay near the east end of the road on the corner of Shepherdess Walk; this had started its life as a tea-garden, but was turned into a music hall in 1825 (one of the very first); it ended its days as a Salvation Army centre and was pulled down in 1901.

The City Road had a pawnbroker’s shop near its west end and to pop was a well-known phrase at the time for pawning something. So the second verse says that visiting the Eagle causes one’s money to vanish, necessitating a trip up the City Road to Uncle to raise some cash. But what was the weasel that was being pawned? Nobody is sure. Some suggest it was a domestic or tailor’s flat-iron, a small item easy to carry. My own guess is that it’s rhyming slang: weasel and stoat = coat. Either way, it seems to have been a punning reinterpretation of the catch line from the older dance.

The first verse just refers to a couple of domestic food items; the fourth to sewing or tailors’ requisites. The third introduces the monkey, one sense of that word being a nineteenth-century term for a drinking vessel in a public house, which makes sense in context. (It may derive from an older phrase, to suck the monkey, to drink from a bottle, which was also used by dock workers in London for illicitly drinking brandy from a cask by inserting a straw through the bung.) A stick was a shot of spirits, such as rum or brandy; to knock it off was to knock it back, or drink it. (There have been many other slang meanings of monkey, some extremely rude, of which the most famous is perhaps that for £500 or $500; from context, this is unlikely to be the meaning meant!)

The reference to the monkey in the fifth verse stumps me; in this case it seems to be a real beast. It could be one belonging to an organ-grinder, an itinerant musician who played a small portable organ, of whom there were many at this period. But I suspect there are topical or slang references in there that are now lost." SOURCE

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It's well known that almost all childrens rhymes, fairy tales and parables from Mother Goose to the Brothers Grimm, are rooted in much more serious adult themes, as a way to teach children.

As a child in rural Indiana, we sang:

All around the mulberry bush the monkey chased the weasel

That's the way the money went

Pop! goes the weasel

We also did the "bridging" dance, capturing a playmate. My version seems to be a combination of the versions posted. Pretty interesting, wuxtry & b-f, I love reading stuff like that!

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