Breedloves's Folk Songs


“Pop Goes the Weasel” is a jig, often sung as a nursery rhyme, that dates back to 17th
century England, and was spread across the Empire by colonists. The song is also
associated with jack-in-thebox toys (when the song gets to “pop” the “jack” pops up).
Due to the obscure slang and cryptic reference “pop goes the weasel”, there is
considerable dispute over the rhyme’s meaning. While the rhyme certainly originated in
England, the meaning of the terms in the first verse with which people are familiar in the
U.S. is well established. In the late nineteenth century the technology for weaving on
large rack looms was brought to the United States from England. Along with it came a
traditional work song. The verse mentioning weasels and monkeys is quite specifically
about the children employed to sit inside these huge industrial loom-machines and chase
the loom shuttle around, un-sticking it when it went awry and correcting any mis-weaves
that resulted. Thus the children hopped around like monkeys chasing the shuttle which
reminded workers of a weasel as it threaded its way in and out of the narrow passages
between the rack levels. The pop sound is clearly the sharp whack – whack – whack as the
large shuttle paddles at each side of the loom slapped the shuttle back and forth each time
the racks reversed position.
All around the Cobbler’s bench,
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought t’was all in fun
Pop Goes the weasel!
A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle,
That the way the money goes,
Pop Goes the weasel!
I’ve no time to sit and sigh
No patience to wait till bye and bye
Kiss me quick, I’m off, good-bye
Pop Goes the weasel!

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