Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pop Goes The Weasel

This charming playschool ditty actually describes the poverty and working conditions of the 17th century in North London. Straight Dope's Tom Miller researched and compares various versions of the tune (reproduced here by kind permission) :

"...in North America, the opening line was generally "all around the mulberry bush," possibly due to conflation with the similar tune "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush." In the UK, however, it was usually "all around the cobbler's bench." This gives us a better idea of the song's original meaning. Most authorities think "Pop Goes the Weasel" describes the acts of weaving, spinning, and sewing. A weasel, Tom reports, was a mechanism used by tailors, cobblers, and hatters that "popped" when the spool was full of thread.

Some argue that to pop the weasel is also cockney slang meaning to pawn one's coat. This makes sense in light of the second verse of the kids' version: "A penny for a spool of thread / A penny for a needle / That's the way the money goes," etc. A version popular in 19th-century English music halls makes things even clearer: "Up and down the City Road / In and out the Eagle / That's the way the money goes," etc. The Eagle in question was a London tavern; clearly the lyricist was describing the consequences of spending too little time at the cobbler's bench and too much on a barstool."

The Eagle pub, Old Street, is at the other end of City Road, which leads downhill from Islington, where I live. I went for a power breakfast with DB and took these early-ish morning shots. I reproduce the lyric here in its full London glory:

Pop Goes The Weasel

All around the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought '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.

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


It's remarkably well known, this lyric, and pops up all over the place. Having read The Wind in the Willows as a child, I found weasels quite frightening, the evil chavs of the story, dirty, immoral, quick to steal and threaten with their sharp teeth. The rice and treacle sounded nice though, and we always got a laugh from testing the adults ear-tolerance, singchanting the rhyme sweetly in chorus, la la la la laaaa la, then all yelling POP! as loud as we possibly could in each verse.

Then we would stage-dive, mosh, and dance like chickens. But that was more because we were held captive by our adult "minders" and wanted to convince them we were harmless buffoons. It worked! We escaped. I grew up to drink beer and repeat the process naked with several members of the opposite gender and cameras present. Innocent days indeed.

Technorati tag:

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


At 12:27 PM, Blogger RuKsaK quoth...

I want to see that film - the one in the poster and the one that should be made on your life.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Gav quoth...

My Nan had a verse which you don't include:

Every time that I go out,
the monkey's on the table,
Get a stick and knock him off,
Pop goes the weasel.

Whether it's something she made up or one that she'd been sung, I've no idea. she was a Cockney though

At 9:16 PM, Blogger Blog ho quoth...

I always thought it was a fight between a weasle and a monkey where the monkey accidentally kills the weasle.

At 1:58 AM, Blogger I.:.S.:. quoth...

Hey your blogger profile page makes a weird noise that sounded good through my amp.

Have you considered getting Haloscan comments?

Ok lunch then, same place, no?

At 5:50 AM, Blogger transience quoth...

wait. how does one dance like a chicken?

At 10:06 PM, Blogger JEANNIE quoth...



Post a Comment

<< Home

Web pages referring to this page:
Link to this page and get a link back..