Pop Goes the Weasel

For the 1991 song, see Pop Goes the Weasel (3rd Bass song).
"Pop! Goes the Weasel"
Roud #5249

Pop! Goes the Weasel tune
Written England
Published 1853
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

“Pop! Goes the Weasel” is an English nursery rhyme and singing game. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5249. The jack-in-the-box children’s toy often plays the melody.


There are many different versions of the lyrics to the song. In England, most share the basic verse:

Pop Goes the Weasel
Tune for Pop Goes the Weasel

Problems playing this file? See media help.
Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.[1]

Often a second verse is added:

Every night when I get home
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.


The tune appears to have begun as dance music, to which words were later added. 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][2] The dance became extremely popular, and featured on stage[3] as well as in dance-halls.[4] By September of the same year the title was being used as a scornful riposte[5] and soon words were added to an already well-known tune.[6] The song is mentioned in November, 1855 in a Church of England pamphlet[7] 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:

Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel.[1]

Additional verses related to both traditions are:

My mother taught me how to sew,
And how to thread the needle,
Every time my finger slips,
Pop! goes the weasel.
You may try to sew and sew,
And never make something regal,
So roll it up and let it go,
Pop! goes the weasel.
I went a-hunting in the woods,
It wasn’t very legal,
The dog and I were caught with the goods,
Pop! goes the weasel.
I said I didn’t hunt or sport,
The warden looked at my beagle,
He said to tell it to the court,
Pop! goes the weasel.

American versions

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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9]

In 1901 in New York the opening lines were:

All around the chicken coop,
The possum chased the weasel.[9]

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 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.

Contemporary verses in the United States include these:

All around the mulberry bush, (or cobbler’s bench) (or carpenter’s bench)
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought ’twas all in good fun, (or ’twas all in good sport) (or that it was a joke) (or it was a big joke) (or twas all in 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.
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[10] 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 interpretations

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,[8][11] 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 involves pawning one's coat in order to buy food and drink, as "weasel" is rhyming slang for "coat"[12] and "pop" is a slang word for "pawn".[13]

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.[11][14][15][16]

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]

The "Eagle" in the song's third verse probably refers to The Eagle freehold pub at the corner of Shepherdess Walk and City Road mentioned in the same verse.[17][18] The Eagle was an old pub in City Road, London, which was rebuilt as a music hall in 1825, demolished in 1901, and then rebuilt as a public house.[19] This public house bears a plaque with this interpretation of the nursery rhyme and the pub's history.

As a singing game

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 basically the American game of musical chairs: music is played as a number of children (x) circle around a row of chairs, which is x-1; when the music stops, the children vie for the available chairs, and the person left standing is "out."

Pop recording

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. The tune is prominently used in numerous Three Stooges episodes.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I. Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 216-18.
  2. 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
  3. At the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The Times, (London, England),19 April 1853,p.6
  4. 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
  5. '...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'
  6. '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
  7. Thirtieth Annual Report Of The ... - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 Pop goes the weasel The Phrase Finder. 2004.
  9. 1 2 W. E. Studwell, The Americana Song Reader (Haworth Press, 1997), pp. 135-6.
  10. "Pop Goes The Weasel- Version 1". Bluegrass Messengers. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  11. 1 2 D. D. Volo, Family Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century America (Greenwood, 2006), p. 264.
  12. web: cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk
  13. The Free Dictionary
  14. Pop Goes the Weasel, The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/pop-goes-the-weasel.html
  15. Brown, Rachel, The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, p. 240, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1978.
  16. "Another Clock Reel," Full Chisel Blog Web site (http://www.fullchisel.com/blog/?p=298), Retrieved 8-3-2011.
  17. P. Zwart, Islington; a History and Guide (London: Taylor & Francis, 1973), p. 42.
  18. David Kemp (1992) The pleasures and treasures of Britain: a discerning traveller's companion p.158. Dundurn Press Ltd., 1992
  19. "Eagle Tavern / Grecian Theatre, City Road: Playbills and illustrations". Bishopsgate. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
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