George Stimpson

His life and works

Home > Information Roundup > What does weasel mean in pop goes the weasel?
What does weasel mean in pop goes the weasel?

Pop goes the weasel is a curious old phrase that survives only in the refrain of a nineteenth-century comic song, which runs:

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes—
Pop goes the weasel!
The authorship of this song is generally attributed to "W. R. Man­dale," about whom no information appears to be available and who may be a mythical person. The Eagle in the song was a tavern or pub on the street called City Road in London. Pop goes the weasel is of obscure origin and meaning. It may have been merely a piece of non­sense. The Oxford dictionary says it was "the name of a country dance in which these words were sung while one of the dancers darted under the arms of the others." Most people associate the saying with the quick, jerky, nervous movements of the small animal known as the weasel. This nimble little animal is noted for its furtiveness as it dodges in and out of crevices and holes with lightninglike speed in [page 2] front of an observer. Some suppose that weasel in pop goes the weasel did not originally allude to the animal of that name but to a flatiron or some other household or tradesman's article or tool known as a weasel. In the eighteenth century pop was British slang for "pawn" or "hock." According to this theory, the song alludes to the fact that poor wage earners were in the habit of popping or pawning some article or tool on Saturday night to pay for their drinks at the Eagle. A large glass wine bottle, with bulging sides and small neck and mouth, used to be called a weasel. It may have been this sort of weasel that popped when uncorked and made the money go. Still another theory is that the refrain in the song alluded to the opening and closing of pocketbook made of weasel skin and popularly known at that time as a weasel. It seems more probable, however, that, as the Oxford dictionary intimates, pop goes the weasel was originally applied to a country dance and that it compared the actions of the dancers to the characteristics of the weasel.