Pop Goes the Weasel

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"Pop! Goes the Weasel"
Roud #5249
Written byTraditional
FormNursery rhyme
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"Pop! Goes the Weasel"
Roud #5249
Written byTraditional
FormNursery rhyme

"Pop! Goes the Weasel" is a nursery rhyme and singing game. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5249. The jack-in-the-box, a 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:

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Tune for Pop Goes the Weasel

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Half a pound of tupenny (= two-penny) 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', which was, according to the music sheet, '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 lyrics 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]

American versions[edit]

The song seems to have crossed the Atlantic in the 1850s where US newspapers soon afterwards call it "the latest English dance", and the phrase "Pop! goes the weasel" soon took hold.[8] The remaining lyrics were still unstable in Britain, and as a result some of the US lyrics are significantly different and may have an entirely different source, but use the same tune.[8] The following lyrics were 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 lyric was:

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)
The monkey chased the weasel;
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun, (or "'twas all in good sport") (or "that it was a joke") (or "it was a big joke")
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.

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[edit]

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

Perhaps because of the obscure nature of the 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 clock reel used for measuring in spinning,[8][11] a piece of silver plate, or that 'weasel and stoat' is Cockney rhyming slang for "coat", which is "popped" or pawned to visit, or after visiting, the Eagle pub.

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 Pete 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.[12][13] 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.[14] This public house bears a plaque with this interpretation of the nursery rhyme and the pub's history.

As a singing game[edit]

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]

Cultural Influence[edit]

Anthony Newley released a single in 1961 "Pop Goes the Weasel" / "Bee Bom" (Decca F11362, UK No. 12)

In the Three Stooges episode Punch Drunks, Curly goes mad and wants to punch people when he hears the song.

In The Sims 3: Into the Future, this song appeared as one of the songs Sims play in the laser rythimacon.

In 1994 the Lords of Acid wrote a song titled "Out comes the evil" Starting lyrics to original rhyme of "Pop goes the weasel", in reference to heroin. The track was off of the album "Voodoo U".

In the Marx Brothers' film Duck Soup, the new leader of Freedonia, Rufus T. Firefly, sets out the rules of his administration in a song with some stanzas ending with "and pop goes the weasel".

In the cartoon "Donald's Nephews" (1938), Donald Duck tries to play it at piano and to make it play (desperately) on his nephews at musical instruments like slide trombone.

In The Godfather Part II is a scene (at the big party on the occasion of Michael Corleone's infant son's First Communion) where Michael has a business meeting with Frank Petangeli. In another, more comic scene at the party, Petangeli is trying to get the hired band to play some Italian folk music in 6:8 time, suggesting to the musicians the rhythm the tunes should be played in. The band members don't know any Italian melodies and wind up simply slipping into the familiar 6:8 tune "Pop Goes the Weasel," much to Petangeli's frustration!

In The Railway Series, the troublesome trucks re-word the song twice to tease engines for their misdemeanours, most notably in "Duck and the Diesel Engine", when the trucks reword the song based on Diesel's mistake - "Pop Goes the Diesel."

In 2012 game Call of Duty Black Ops II there is an Easter egg named after the song.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the android character Data attempts to whistle this tune unsuccessfully on more than one occasion, as part of his attempts to emulate human behavior.

In episode "Double Agent" (Season 2, episode 14) of Alias a young CIA agent is forced to sing this tune while clothed in a suit made out of C4.

In Doctor Who the third Doctor in Planet of the Spiders hears the voice (an illusion) of Sarah and himself singing the song.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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. ^ a b c Pop goes the weasel The Phrase Finder. 2004.
  9. ^ a b 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. ^ D. D. Volo, Family Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century America (Greenwood, 2006), p. 264.
  12. ^ P. Zwart, Islington; a History and Guide (London: Taylor & Francis, 1973), p. 42.
  13. ^ David Kemp (1992) The pleasures and treasures of Britain: a discerning traveller's companion p.158. Dundurn Press Ltd., 1992
  14. ^ "Eagle Tavern / Grecian Theatre, City Road: Playbills and illustrations". Bishopsgate. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 

External links[edit]