If the song (Pop goes the Weasel) goes back to the 17th century, and may be from a cockney phrase, how old is the cockney dialect?
Actually, there’s a really good book called “The Story of English” (several authors, but I believe Robert McCrum was one if you want to look it up) which addresses that issue among others. I don’t have it at hand, but I believe the short answer is Cockney is at least that old, though it’s evolved and probably wouldn’t sound the same as what we call “cockney” today…
Hi Cecil and crew (I hear you actually stop in to read this stuff on occasion)…
I just read your explanation of “Pop goes the weasel.” I have an explanation bouncing around in my head which I cannot recollect the source of (nice grammar). Here it is for your amusement…
All around the cobbler’s bench (or ‘all around the mulberry bush’ if you prefer)
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun
“POP” goes the weasel
The explanation is that weasels make a popping noise when they are upset. I’ve never provoked a weasel into making any sort of noise to see if this is
actually true, but I’m sure that people with your vast resources (a 10 cent call to a local zoo should do it) could see if this story is the least bit credible.
An English professor who happened to be a linguist of sorts, explained the rhyme to us once. As he put it, in Olde England, a man had a finite amount of ahem reproductive material. The term for using this material was ‘spending change’ or something like that.
“A penny for a spool of thread / A penny for a needle / That’s the way the money goes,” Threadding a needle? Spending the change? See a common ‘thread’ here?
Could be some theatrical smoke and mirrors that he was giving us, but it makes for a good party story.
About “Pop Goes the Weasel”. In Tom Burman’s “Dictionary of Misinformation”
(Ballantine, 1975) he presents a slightly different explanantion. He
presents the same lyrics (“Up and down the City Road / In and out the Eagle /
That’s the way the money goes / Pop Goes the Weasel”), but states that “pop”
is a slang term for “pawn”, i.e the person in question was pawning his tools
to pay off his bills at “The Eagle” a (wink-wink) “music hall”. Makes sense to me.
The Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond (snicker) claims that ‘weasel’ or ‘weaselback’ was slang for a pocketbook or purse, so “that’s the way the money goes” was a literal referrence to pulling coins (pop!) from the weasel. Admittedly, Almond (guffaw) also repeats the old T.I.P. chestnut, so maybe isn’t the most reliable source, but it’s one more theory to add to the pot.
The words I remember are:
A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel
It was explained to me once that the “weasel” was a part of a spinning wheel. Sort of fits in with the rest of the song as I heard it sung, but there are so many different versions in this thread already that the one my mother sang probably isn’t the genuine folk article. Then again, we’re old-time redneck stock, so my mother’s might be the original. I think I remember a reference to this in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
I always knew “pop goes the weasel” as
Half a pound of tuppenny rice
Half a pound of treacle
Thats the way the money goes
“Pop” goes the weasel!
I dont know if anyone else has heard that version, but I think its even been printed that way. This puts a different view on the fact that a weasel might be a purdse or a wallet, or even (As I thought as child) if a weasel ate all that he would litterally go “pop”.
In June, 1961, Anthony Newley’s swing-styled version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” was released in England and here, Stateside. On the record, Newley – Cockney-born himself – explains that he “looked it up”, and offers the hatter explanation, with the “weasel” signifying the hatter’s supplies, which he’d pawn for a weekend’s drinking ("…in and out the Eagle").
He then offers his own explanation, something about a weasel popping when the price of rice was raised from tuppenny to fourpence and said weasel getting its nose stuck in the treacle.
I think he was kidding, epecially at the end, when he says “will you please excuse me for a moment – I think I’m gonna pop my weasel.” But we all knew THAT definition, didn’t we?
Regarding “Pop Goes the Weasel”; I was always told that a weasel was a tool for dressing the brim of a beaver hat(that is, trimming off any frayed edge). And that, over time, this became slang as was mentioned, for a top hat, ergo, when you popped your weasel, you pawned your hat.
14th century. IE:
"Cockney One born within sound of Bow-bells, London; one possessing London peculiarities of
speech, etc.; one wholly ignorant of country sports, country life, farm animals, plants, and so on.
Camden says the Thames was once called “the Cockney.”
The word has been spelt Cockeney, Cockaneys, Cocknell, etc. “Cocknell” would be a little
cock. “Puer in deliciis matris nutritus, ” Anglice, a kokenay, a pampered child. “Niais” means
a nestling, as faucon niais, and if this is the last syllable of “Cockney,” it confirms the idea that
the word means an enfant gâté.
Wedgwood suggests cocker (to fondle), and says a cockerney or cockney is one pampered by
city indulgence, in contradistinction to rustics hardened by outdoor work. (Dutch, kokkeler, to
pamper; French, coqueliner, to dangle.)
Chambers in his Journal derives the word from a French poem of the thirteenth century, called
The Land of Cocagne, where the houses were made of barley-sugar and cakes, the streets paved
with pastry, and the shops supplied goods without requiring money in payment. The French, at a
very early period, called the English cocagne men, i.e. bons vivants (beef and pudding men).
“Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the cels, when she put them into the paste alive.”- Shakespeare: Lear, ii. 4."
My predominantly Irish family has always sung this song with relish (and liquor). I was taught that the “Weasel” was Gealic for the Yule Log, and it was a Christmas sing-along. Thus, 'pop" goes the… The rest of the song related to making gifts…