Pop Goes the Weasel

"Pop! Goes the Weasel" is an English nursery rhyme and singing game. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5249. 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 extant.[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] 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.

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.

There are numerous American versions[20] 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][21] a piece of silver plate, or that 'weasel and stoat' is Cockney rhyming slang for "throat", as in "Get that down yer Weasel" meaning to eat or drink something.

An alternative meaning which fits better with the theme of "that's the way the money goes" involves pawning one's coat in desperation to buy food and drink, as "weasel (and stoat)" is more usually and traditionally Cockney rhyming slang for "Coat" rather than throat[22] and "pop" is a slang word for pawn.[23] Therefore, "Pop goes the weasel" meant pawning a coat. Decent coats and other clothes were handmade, expensive and pawnable. The monkey on the table in verse two was the demand for payment of a mortgage or other secured loan.[24][25] If knocked off the table or ignored it would go unpaid and accrue interest, requiring the coat to be pawned again. The stick itself may also be rhyming slang - "Sticks and Stones: Loans".

The "Eagle" on City Road in the song's third verse probably refers to The Eagle Tavern, at the corner of Shepherdess Walk.[26][27] 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][28] 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.[21][29][30][31]

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

A pop version of the song was recorded in 1938 by The Merry Macs on Decca Records (Decca 64413-A) and again in 1961 by British singer Anthony Newley, also on the Decca label (Decca F11362), and reached number 12 in the UK singles chart.

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

The tune is prominently used in numerous Three Stooges episodes.

Lords of Acid parodied the song, replacing "tuppenny rice" with "heroin", in the song "Out Comes the Evil".

A parodied version of the rhyme is heard prominently in The Railway Series, later as Thomas and Friends in the stories "Pop Goes the Diesel" and "Toad Stands By".

It was used in 1963 as the theme music for the 15 episodes[32] of the BBC radio show called Pop Go The Beatles that was aired on Tuesdays at 5 pm on the BBC Light Programme[33] station. The first episode was broadcast on 4 June[32] and the last on 24 September.[34] The jingle was recorded by the British group on Friday 24 May but ultimately not included in either BBC albums.[33]


  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, July 4"
  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. Books.google.com. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  15. ^ Anonymous (1846). Lady Mine! Lady Mine!. Baltimore, MD: F. D. Benteen. p. 6.
  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. ^ "Pop Goes The Weasel- Version 1". Bluegrass Messengers. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  21. ^ a b D. D. Volo, Family Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century America (Greenwood, 2006), p. 264.
  22. ^ "Weasel and Stoat is Cockney Rhyming Slang for Coat!". www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk.
  23. ^ "pop" – via The Free Dictionary.
  24. ^ frances, john (6 January 1877). "notes and queries" – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Commons, Great Britain Parliament House of (6 January 1921). "Parliamentary Debates: Official Report". H.M. Stationery Office – via Google Books.
  26. ^ P. Zwart, Islington; a History and Guide (London: Taylor & Francis, 1973), p. 42.
  27. ^ David Kemp. The pleasures and treasures of Britain: a discerning traveller's companion, p.158. Dundurn Press Ltd., 1992.
  28. ^ "Eagle Tavern / Grecian Theatre, City Road: Playbills and illustrations". Bishopsgate. 2006. Archived from the original on 15 November 2007.
  29. ^ Pop Goes the Weasel, The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/pop-goes-the-weasel.html
  30. ^ Brown, Rachel, The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, p. 240, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1978.
  31. ^ "Another Clock Reel," Full Chisel Blog Web site (http://www.fullchisel.com/blog/?p=298), Retrieved 8-3-2011.
  32. ^ a b Joe Goodden. "The Beatles' BBC radio recordings". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  33. ^ a b Joe Goodden. "Radio: Pop Go The Beatles". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  34. ^ "Beatles history - 1963 September". www.dmbeatles.com.

External linksEdit