Pop Goes the Weasel

"Pop Goes the Weasel" (Roud 5249) is an English nursery rhyme and singing game. It is often used in Jack-in-the-box toys.

"Pop Goes the Weasel"
Pop Goes the Weasel melody.PNG
Sheet music
Nursery rhyme


There are many different versions of the lyrics to the song. In England, 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.[1]

Often a second and third verse is added:

Every night when I go out,
The monkey's on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel.[1]

Up and down the City road,
In and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.[2]


Early sheet music publication (1853). Note the absence of lyrics other than "Pop Goes the Weasel"

The rhyme may have originated in the 18th century, and mentions The Eagle tavern on London's City Road, which stopped being a pub in 1825, until rebuilt in 1901 and is still in existence.[3]

A boat named "Pop Goes The Weasel" competed in the Durham Regatta in June 1852,[4] but it was in December of that year that "Pop Goes The Weasel" first came to prominence as a social dance in England. A ball held in Ipswich on 13 December 1852 ended with "a country dance, entitled 'Pop Goes the Weasel', one of the most mirth inspiring dances which can well be imagined."[5] On 24 December 1852, dance lessons for "Pop Goes The Weasel", described as a "highly fashionable Dance, recently introduced at her Majesty's and the Nobility's private soirees", were advertised in Birmingham.[6] By the 28th of that month, a publication including "the new dance recently introduced with such distinguished success at the Court balls" and containing "the original music and a full explanation of the figures by Mons. E. Coulon" was being advertised in The Times.[7]

The tune appears to have begun as dance music, to which words were later added.[citation needed]. 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 & The Nobilities Balls, with the Original Music". It had a tune very similar to that used today but only the words "Pop! Goes the Weasel".[1][8] A similar piece of sheet music published in 1853 is available online at the Library of Congress; it also contains no words other than "Pop Goes the Weasel", but gives a detailed description of the dance:[9]

FIGURES: Form in Two Lines – Top Couple Ballaneez, Four Bars – then Gallop down inside and back, Four Bars – take the next Lady, Hands Round Four Bars – then Two Bars back and (while all Sing Pop goes the Weasel) pass her under your arms to her Place – Repeat with the lady's Partner then Gallop down the inside and back, Four Bars – and down outside to the other end of the line, Four Bars, which finishes the Figure – The next couple follows, &c. &c.

The dance became extremely popular, and featured on stage[10] as well as in dance-halls.[11] By September of the same year the title was being used as a scornful riposte[12] and soon words were added to an already well-known tune.[13] The song is mentioned in November 1855 in a Church of England pamphlet[14] where it is described as a universally popular song played in the streets on barrel organs, but with "senseless lyrics": the use of alternative, more wholesome words is suggested. The following verse had been written by 1856 when it was quoted in a performance at the Theatre Royal.

A piece of sheet music, copyrighted in Baltimore in 1846, advertises "Pop Goes the Weasel, sung by Mr. Chapman", written by "Raymond", as among the "Ballads" available for sale from the same publisher;[15] however a copy of that sheet music available online at Johns Hopkins University indicates that it dates from significantly later (1856).[16]

American versionsEdit

The song seems to have crossed the Atlantic in the 1850s where U.S. newspapers soon afterwards call it "the latest English dance", and the phrase "Pop! goes the weasel" soon took hold.[17] The remaining words were still unstable in Britain, and as a result some of the U.S. lyrics are significantly different and may have an entirely different source, but use the same tune.[17] The following lyric was printed in Boston in 1858:

All around the cobbler's house,
The monkey chased the people.
And after them in double haste,
Pop! goes the weasel.[18]

In her autobiographical novel Little House in the Big Woods, published in 1932, American author Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls her father in 1873 singing the lyrics:

All around the cobbler's bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The preacher kissed the cobbler's wife—
Pop! goes the weasel!

A penny for a spool of thread,
Another for a needle,
That's the way the money goes—
Pop! Goes the weasel![19]

In 1901 in New York the opening lines were:

All around the chicken coop,
The possum chased the weasel.[18]

The most common recent version was not recorded until 1914. In addition to the three verses above, American versions often include some of the following:

All around the cobbler's bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock, (or The monkey stopped to scratch his nose) (or The monkey fell down and oh what a sound)
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.

By the mid-20th century, the standard United States lyrics had replaced the "cobbler's bench" with a "mulberry bush."

All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in good fun
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.

This replacement appears to be a transfer from a then-common idiom, and a carryover from another children's nursery rhyme, "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush". "Here we go round the mulberry bush" has a particularly similar melody, especially when "mulberry" is given the American three syllables, hence the ease of carryover. During the first decades of the 20th century, the common idiom "to beat all around the mulberry bush" meant to avoid speaking of a difficult topic by taking far longer to refer to it obliquely, in the hopes of not giving offense.[20] In 1938, a song called "Stop Beatin' Round the Mulberry Bush", with lyrics by Bickley Reichner and music by Clay Boland and built around the basic melody of the nursery rhyme, was popular with recordings by bands such as Fats Waller, Count Basie, Jack Hylton, Nat Gonella, and Joe Loss. That version became popular again in 1953, when it was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets. The idiom has since been shortened to "to beat around the bush."

Contemporary verses in the United States include these, the first three being sung one after the other, with the third getting the 'closing' version of the tune.

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

Up and down the King's Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes—
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.

I've no time to wait and sigh,
No patience to wait 'til by and by.
Kiss me quick, I'm off, goodbye!
Pop! goes the weasel.

Another common version replaces "Cobbler's Bench" with "Mulberry Bush", as shown below.

All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock
Pop! goes the weasel.

There are numerous American versions[21] as printed in Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, Volume III, pp. 368–369. Randolph's #556, the A text. Collected 1926 from Mrs. Marie Wilbur of Pineville, Missouri.

Meaning and interpretationsEdit

The Eagle pub in City Road, London, with the rhyme on the wall

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", including: that it is a tailor's flat iron, a dead weasel, a hatter's tool, a spinner's weasel used for measuring in spinning,[17][22] or a piece of silver plate.

The "Eagle" on City Road in the song's third verse probably refers to The Eagle Tavern, at the corner of Shepherdess Walk.[23][24] The Eagle Tavern was an old pub in City Road, London, which was rebuilt as a music hall in 1825, and rebuilt again in 1901 as a public house, still extant.[3][25] This public house bears a plaque with this interpretation of the nursery rhyme and the pub's history.

Spinner Charlene Parker with weasel (on left) and spinning wheel (on right) at Knott's Berry Farm

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.[22][26][27][28]

Another theory, according to the Museum of London, is that "weasel" is Cockney rhyming slang for "weasel and stoat" meaning "coat." To "pop the weasel" meant to pawn your coat. "Monkey" was the term for money worries, as in "monkey on your back"; so to be chased by the monkey means having money troubles. One way out was to pawn your coat! .

Other than correspondences, none of these theories has any additional evidence to support it, and some can be discounted because of the known history of the song.[1] Iona and Peter Opie observed that, even at the height of the dance craze in the 1850s, no-one seemed to know what the phrase meant.[1]

As a singing gameEdit

In Britain the rhyme has been played as a children's game since at least the late 19th century. The first verse quoted above is sung, while several rings are formed and they dance around. One player more than the number of rings are designated as "weasels", all but one standing in the rings. When the "Pop! goes the weasel" line is reached they have to rush to a new ring before anyone else can. The one that fails is eliminated and the number of circles is reduced by one until there is only one weasel left.[1] This is similar to the game of musical chairs: music is played as players circle a row of chairs, one fewer chairs than players, while music plays. When the music stops, the players vie for the available chairs, and the player left standing is "out".

Pop recordingEdit

This tune was used in 1963 as the theme music for the 15 episodes[29] of the BBC radio show called Pop Go The Beatles that was aired on Tuesdays at 5 pm on the BBC Light Programme[30] station. The first episode was broadcast on 4 June[29] and the last on 24 September.[31] The jingle was recorded by the British group on Friday 24 May but ultimately not included in either BBC albums.[30]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f I. Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 216–18.
  2. ^ "Eagle Tavern - song". London Remembers.
  3. ^ a b "Pop Goes the Weasel". Nursery Rhymes Lyrics and Origins. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Durham Regatta". Newcastle Courant (9263): 5. 18 June 1852.
  5. ^ "Mr. Bowles's Balls". Suffolk Chronicle. Ipswich (2226): 2. 18 December 1852.
  6. ^ "The New Dance: Pop Goes the Weasel". The Birmingham Journal. Birmingham, England. xxviii (1443): 8. 25 December 1852.
  7. ^ "Pop Goes The Weasel [advertisement]". The Times. London (21310): 10. 28 December 1852.
  8. ^ A newspaper advertisement for March 1853 offers 'La Napolienne, Pop goes the Weasel, and La Tempête...the original music of the above three celebrated dances, with full descriptions of the figures. Boosey and Sons, 28 Holles-street': The Times, (London, England), 15 March 1853, p. 11
  9. ^ Porter, James W. (arr.) (1853). Pop Goes the Weasel. Philadelphia: J. W. Porter.
  10. ^ At the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The Times, (London, England), 19 April 1853, p. 6
  11. ^ 1853 newspaper ad: "CALDWELL's SOIREES DANSANTES ... where ... all the newest dances are danced, including 'Pop goes the Weasel' by 200 couples every evening ..." The Times (London, England), 20 June 1853, p. 13
  12. ^ "Sergeant Smith apprehended Huxtable at Williams's house, and told him what he was charged with, namely, stealing the plate ... to which he only replied, 'Pop goes the weasel.'" The Times (London, England), 5 July 1853, p. 7: "Middlesex Sessions, 4 July"
  13. ^ "When some bad boys endeavoured to teach him the words of the popular air known as 'Pop goes the Weasel', it is a fact that Master JONES couldn't be brought to do it to any other tune than that of 'Evening Hymn' ..." The Times (London, England), 12 September 1854, p. 6
  14. ^ Thirtieth Annual Report of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales. 1841. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  15. ^ Anonymous (1846). Lady Mine! Lady Mine!. Baltimore, MD: F. D. Benteen. p. 6. hdl:2027/mdp.39015096395762.
  16. ^ Raymond, Eugène (1856). Pop Goes the Weasel (PDF). Baltimore, MD: Miller and Beacham.
  17. ^ a b c Pop goes the weasel The Phrase Finder. 2004.
  18. ^ a b W. E. Studwell, The Americana Song Reader (Haworth Press, 1997), pp. 135–136.
  19. ^ Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, copyright 1932, ch. 5 "Sundays"
  20. ^ See https://www.google.com/books/edition/Extension_of_Bituminous_Coal_Act_of_1937/cqH-BSSOsA0C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22all+around+the+mulberry+bush%22&pg=PA626&printsec=frontcover: "When a question is asked of you, and you refuse to answer, and then you beat all around the mulberry bush for five minutes, and then you say you do not know, I say that is ridiculous."
  21. ^ "Pop Goes The Weasel- Version 1". Bluegrass Messengers. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  22. ^ a b D. D. Volo, Family Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century America (Greenwood, 2006), p. 264.
  23. ^ P. Zwart, Islington; a History and Guide (London: Taylor & Francis, 1973), p. 42.
  24. ^ David Kemp. The pleasures and treasures of Britain: a discerning traveller's companion, p. 158. Dundurn Press Ltd., 1992.
  25. ^ "Eagle Tavern / Grecian Theatre, City Road: Playbills and illustrations". Bishopsgate. 2006. Archived from the original on 15 November 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
  26. ^ Pop Goes the Weasel, The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/pop-goes-the-weasel.html
  27. ^ Brown, Rachel, The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, p. 240, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1978.
  28. ^ "Another Clock Reel," Full Chisel Blog Web site (http://www.fullchisel.com/blog/?p=298), Retrieved 8-3-2011.
  29. ^ a b Joe Goodden (12 August 2013). "The Beatles' BBC radio recordings". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  30. ^ a b Joe Goodden (24 May 1963). "Radio: Pop Go The Beatles". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  31. ^ "Beatles history - 1963 September". www.dmbeatles.com.

External linksEdit