What does Pop Goes the Weasel mean?
Due to the obscure slang and cryptic reference "pop goes the weasel" in the rhyme there is considerable dispute over its meaning. The original 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" may refer to a spinner's 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 repetitive 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 one's meager wages, with "pop goes the weasel" indicating a return to unpleasant labor. Alternatively (and, which is perhaps more likely for a poem from the East End of London), 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). The "serious" Cockney uses "pop" to mean pawning or the redeeming of a pawned item, while the word "weasel" means "coat" (derived from "weasel and stoat"). Another possibility is that "weasel" is a corruption of "whistle" and means "suit" (in this case being derived from "whistle and flute"). In either interpretation, the rhyme describes the pawning of the worker's only valuable items - the "Sunday best" clothing - after exhausting the week's wages on the food items such as rice and treacle, which, though cheap, were and are fundamentally useless to anyone if the buyer is poor and has nothing to eat it with. It is thought, however, that early "quack" doctors would have prescribed treacle as a sort of medicine, and gullible purchasing workers that were prone to illness due to exposure would doubtless have spent their savings on trying to maintain their and their children's health. "The Eagle" in the poem is a Public house on the City Road in London. It stands on the site of the former Royal Eagle Tavern Music hall and pleasure grounds. Needless to say, it too is a means by which money is lost. "Monkey" is believed to be a nineteenth century term for a public house drinking vessel. 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. Alternatively, it could be simply to miss the point of the presence of other "animals" such as weasels and eagles within the rhyme, and that whoever added the "monkey" was simply trying to make it more nonsensical. Nevertheless, within the little-sung verse that goes: Every time when I come home The monkey's on the table, Cracking nuts and eating spice Pop goes the weasel if taken literally, it too is a means by which one would doubtless lose money. However, if the monkey does indeed represent the alcohol, or the container for it, then its "eating" nuts and spice could be seen as its dominating the narrator's life and therefore taking the place of staple food. In either case, it demonstrates a somewhat expensive lifestyle, if the narrator is indeed to be recognised as poor working class.