“Pop Goes the Weasel”: What Does It Really Mean?

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Up and down the city road,
In and out of the Eagle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

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

A penny for a ball of thread
Another for a needle
That's the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

The above are the lyrics to the famous nursery rhyme "Pop Goes the Weasel.”

I’ve always liked the song, mainly because it is featured in the Three Stooges short Punch Drunks (1934). The basic plot revolves around Curly getting super-human strength every time he hears the tune "Pop Goes the Weasel.” Because of my great love for the Three Stooges, hearing "Pop Goes the Weasel" always evokes a happy feeling in my heart.

The actual song "Pop Goes the Weasel" seems at first glance to be just a nonsense rhyme. It apparently has no real purpose, reason or meaning.

But it's really an account of poverty, pawnbroking, minimum wages, and a serious night on the town. The "weasel" in the rhyme is a winter coat -which has to be pawned, or "popped"- in exchange for various things.

The first verse describes the cheapest food available. The narrator of the poem has no money, so "pop" goes the weasel.

The second verse describes a night out at a music hall called the eagle tavern, which was located on the city road. But music halls- and drinks- cost money.

“Pop" goes the weasel.

The third verse is a bit more obscure than the first two- a monkey is slang for a tankard. And knocking off a stick was slang for drinking. The guy wants to go out and get a snoot full.

“Pop" goes the weasel.

The last verse probably refers to the narrator's day job (he was probably a tailor).

So this pleasant little tune is actually about poverty, making ends meet, letting off steam and trying to have some fun. It is actually an upbeat ditty, telling the reader (or the listener) to see that a fun night on the town is well worth a week of cheap wages, crummy food and lousy general living conditions.

(YouTube link)

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I had always thought the song was about a tailor. They are making or mending clothing.
I never paid attention to the middle verses, though.

First verse is about food, but in order to afford the food, the tailor must do work. The tailor must make the yarn they need for darning. They do this on the spinning wheel that makes a pop noise when it has completed how ever many yards.

Final verse was about the "weasel" being darned by the owner or tailor.
The thread and needle are what the tailor is charging for repair of whatever the weasel is.

I had always assumed the weasel was maybe a woman's coat.
My great grandmother used to have a fur coat, and it was joked about that it was weasel.
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Since I moved close to a section of the California Coast where otters hang out and beat up mollusks for their food, and learned that otters are semi-close relatives to weasels, I have gained much more respect for those weasely creatures.

But still, I'm working on a rewriting of the lyrics of that song to "Pop Goes the Otter"... so far, I have it rhyming with "sparking water", "Harry Potter", "the Devil's Daughter", "Welcome Back Kotter" and "lambs to the slaughter". It gets really dark.
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