[Ads-l] ejaculatory "pop"

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Tue Mar 14 16:39:03 EDT 2017

Continuing from John Baker's post, and Amy West's addition, the following seems
to me a plausible outline of the sequence of events.

1. A popular dance tune existed, probably in the late eighteenth century or
earlier, unnamed and with no connection to the later Popped Weasel.

2. The first documented connection appears in America in 1850, where the phrase
is linked to a dance-tune [1]. Similar links are found in printed sources in the
UK in the early 1850s.

3. By 1854, words had been added to the basic phrase.  These took the form of
quatrains, with the fourth line refrain consisting of, "Pop goes the weasel"
[2].  The commonest set (possibly the earliest) is the English version
beginning, "Half a pound of tuppeny rice ..."

4. The cobbler and the monkey are first recorded in Boston in 1858, and seem to
be particularly characteristic of American variants of the extended quatrains.

This suggests to me several things:

1.  Whether or not the phrase existed before it was attached to an
already-existing tune, or was crafted to go with the tune, it initially appeared
in isolation, and any interpretation of it has to discount later accretions, or
treat these accretions simply as evidence of how the phrase was (mis)interpreted
at various times and places. [3]

2. Taking the phrase in isolation, as it seems fairly certain that this was how
it originated, there is no way to discriminate between a Standard English and a
Slang interpretation of the words:

     SE:   The weasel goes away.

 [pop -- SE colloquial:  OED: pop, v1, sense 3a [intr.]: To move or go somewhere
quickly or unexpectedly, esp. for a short time. Usu. with in, off, out, up, etc.
--  from 1530]

     Slang: The coat is pawned.  

[“weasel and stoat” or simply “weasel” -- Rhyming Slang, "coat";  pop -- General
Slang, "pawn"].

3.  The interpretation of the evolution and meaning of the various versions of
the song in England and America is a separate issue.  It would be more than nice
if there were available a full set of the various texts.  I suspect the Opies
[2] will focus on the earlier English variants only, but I'm guessing at this
for the moment.

          Robin Hamilton

[1] QUOTE: 'Pop goes the weasel' - the meaning and origin of this phrase -- "The
origin is perhaps the easier of the two. The earliest known published version is
as the title of a dance tune. A version of the tune was published in the USA in
1850 - _Pop goes the Weasel for Fun and Frolic_. The text accompanying the
article calls it 'an old English dance lately revived'." --

[2] Most of the early references in WIKI are linked to Peter and Iona Opie, _The
Singing Game_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 216-18, which may
provide more detail and fuller texts (if the Opies' admirable work in _The
Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes_is anything to go by). 

[3] Eric Partridge, _A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American from
the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day _ (various editions) includes a few
lines on it, and links it to the roughly-contemporary and comparably obscure,
"Has your mother sold her mangle?"

>     It was a popular dance in the 1860s. I've done it at vintage dances.
>     It's a set dance (I think I'm using that term correctly). General
>     description of the dance: 2 lines of dancers facing each other. Top
>     couple is active: they take hands, grab hands with lady, circle 2 1/2
>     times, when she's facing her space, the top couple raise hands and "pop"
>     her back into her place (by pushing her under the arch of their hands).
>     Repeat with the gent. Oh, crap, I forgot, the top couple casts off and
>     walks down and back up the outside and then back into place first, and
>     then there's more walking down and back on the inside after the circling.
>     I hate this dance. I always screw up the progression because it happens
>     at an odd place in the dance. And our practice music was plinky banjo
> music.
>     I have no idea if you can find video of the vintage dance on YouTube.
>     You might.
>     ---Amy West
>     On 3/14/17 12:00 AM, ADS-L automatic digest system wrote:
>     > Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2017 21:34:52 +0000
>     > From: "Baker, John"<JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
>     > Subject: Re: ejaculatory "pop"
>     >
>     > Probably the "weasel" doesn't mean anything, in any reasonable objective
>     > sense. "Pop Goes the Weasel" emerged in late 1852 and was an immediate
>     > international sensation, starting in Great Britain and quickly moving to
>     > Australia and America. There is some evidence that initially it did not
>     > have words, other than the title. There was broad and early confusion as
>     > to its meaning, even as more verses were being written and becoming
>     > popular. This suggests that someone came up with a nonsense phrase, "pop
>     > goes the weasel," that matched up to a key portion of the music, then
>     > other people wrote words to accompany it.
>     >
>     > If there is a meaning, it probably has something to do with money. A
>     > number of the key verses refer to money, frequently including the key
>     > line, "That's the way the money goes."
>     >
>     > Wikipedia suggests the possibility of a connection to a spinner's
>     > weasel: "A spinner's weasel consists of a wheel which is revolved by the
>     > spinner in order to measure off thread or yarn after it has been
>     > produced on the spinning wheel. The weasel is usually built so that the
>     > circumference is six feet, so that 40 revolutions produces 80 yards of
>     > yarn, which is a skein. It has wooden gears inside and a cam, designed
>     > to cause a popping sound after the 40th revolution, telling the spinner
>     > that she has completed the skein." Interesting, but I suspect it's no
>     > more than a coincidence. I think the protagonist is generally understood
>     > to be a male cobbler, not a female spinner.
>     >
>     >
>     > John Baker
>     ------------------------------------------------------------
>     The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list