Tune of the Day: Pop! Goes the Weasel
This well-known folk song can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a music sheet acquired by the British Library in 1853 described a dance which was “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 and only the words “Pop! Goes the Weasel”. The song seems to have crossed the Atlantic in the 1850s, while the lyrics were still unstable in Britain. Nowadays, most versions share the basic verse:
Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
Perhaps because of the obscure nature of the lyrics there have been many suggestions for their significance, particularly over the meaning of the phrase “Pop! goes the weasel”, including: that it is a tailor's flat iron, a hatter's tool, a clock reel used for measuring in spinning, a piece of silver plate, or that “weasel and stoat” is rhyming slang for “coat”, that it is a mishearing of “weevil” or “vaisselle”, that it was a nickname of James I, and that “rice” and “treacle” are slang terms for potassium nitrate and charcoal and that therefore the rhyme refers to the gunpowder plot. Other than correspondences, however, none of these theories has any additional evidence to support it; by the way, it seems that even at the height of the dance craze in the 1850s no one seemed to know what the phrase meant!