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Pop Goes the Weasel

Half a pound of tuppenny 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 the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

For you may try to sew and sew,
But you'll never make anything regal,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.


The imaginative theme of the rhyme seems to have been a darkly humorous portrait of the cycle of poverty of workers in the East End of London. The 'weasel' probably refer to a spinners weasel, a mechanical yarn measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with an internal ratcheting mechanism that clicks every two revolutions and makes a 'pop' sound after the desired length of yarn is measured. 'Pop goes the weasel', in this meaning, describes the repetitve sound of a machine governing the tedious work of textile workers toiling for subsistence wages. In the context of the rhyme then the first three lines of each verse describe various ways of spending ones insufficient wages, with 'pop goes the weasel' indicating a return to unpleasant labor.

Due to the unclear slang and mysterious reference 'pop goes the weasel' in the rhyme there is considerable controversy over its meaning. Rice and treacle are cheap and substantial subsistence cuisine. One piece of research suggests that the pricing of these staples corresponds better to the mid- to late-19th century, and that the version have the line 'up and down the city road' is therefore probably the original.

'Monkey' is believed to be a nineteenth century term for a public house drinking container. A 'stick' is a shot of alcohol, while 'knock it off' is to drink it. Therefore, this is a description of drinking in the pub. The later reference in the song to the monkey chasing people around the workplace might well describe longing for a drink while working, or perhaps while penniless right before payday.

On the other hand, if 'pop goes the weasel' is taken as cockney rhyming slang, the 'weasel' that goes 'pop' is an item of value that the worker pawns, probably after spending the week's wages (always given on a Saturday). Cockney rhyming slang uses 'pop' meaning to pawn or to redeem a pawned item, while the word 'weasel' means 'coat' (derived from weasel and stoat). If this connotation is taken the rhyme describes the blowing of the week's wages on staples and drink, and the pawning of the workers' only valuable items - the 'Sunday best' clothing - on Sunday evening or Monday dawn, to survive until next Saturday's wage packet.

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