This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Thing Probably Not To Do Today: pop.

Half a pound of tuppeny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That's the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel.

My husband, growing up in South London used to add:

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle
That's the way...

And when the tune reached America in the 1850s the words were:

All around the cobbler's house
The monkey chased the people.
And after them in double haste...

So, what's that all about? 

Well, some say pop is used here in the sense of to pawn; some say the weasel is a weasel-skin purse with a pop-closure; and some talk mysteriously of hatters' tools.

The experts on these matters, Iona and Peter Opie, however, point out that even in the 1850s when the song was the centre of the latest dance-craze, no one had a clue what it meant.

So, no change there, then.

Anyway, pop is a simple but useful word, meaning to make a small explosion, to burst, to pay a brief visit, to stick out (if you're talking about eyes), to shoot with a firearm, or to consume (usually a pill).

I'll just point out that if you pop someone on the ground in England you're putting them down lightly and gently, while in America you're knocking them over.

An important distinction, that.

Also important is the difference between popping your clogs, which means dying, and popping the question, which means proposing marriage.

I'm not expecting to do either of these today, but I can pop off with no trouble at all.


Thing To Do Today: pop. This word has been around since the 1300s. It's an imitation of the noise it makes - though not, generally, if you're proposing marriage.

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