Thursday, 4 September 2014

Pop Goes the Weasel

Half a pound of tuppeny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
‘Pop!’ Goes the weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle…

People under a certain (no, actually a very uncertain) age are likely, if they don’t just dismiss the words of the nursery rhyme as ‘mere’ nonsense, to find one or two words and phrases in this one a touch mysterious.

To pop something is to pawn it. Even ‘Pawn’ may be mysterious to many now: the pawnbroker, whose traditional sign was three big gold balls hanging outside the shop (yes there are lots of jokes about that) would offer some small sum of money for the things one took to him, and give one a ticket; a special sort of receipt. When one’s financial circumstances improved one could go back, present the ticket, and pay the money back, with of course an interest charge. There was a time-limit after which the ticket was no longer valid and the pawned item could be displayed in the shop window for anybody to buy.

But to pawn a weasel? Well, weasel is probably a corruption of ‘Whistle’, which is Cockney rhyming slang for ‘Suit’. (Whistle and Flute: Suit.) Very often the man’s best suit, worn only on special occasions such as weddings and funerals. was a working-class family’s most valuable possession.

As for the Eagle, it was, or perhaps still is, a pub near the Islington end of the City Road in London.

Got that? I am full of such highly useful information. Some of it is even true.
Here is a picture of a weasel. It may look cute but actually they're vicious beasts.

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