It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the stories behind our favorite nursery rhymes and based on the responses we’ve been getting, it’s clear that our readers like this topic. So back to our sources we went, for more fascinating facts:
First up, let’s look at “Pop! Goes the Weasel”. This song started out as a popular dance in England in the 1850’s and words were added soon after. The earliest version of the first verse went like this:
Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop! Goes the weasel
The City Road is one of the main roads through London and “the Eagle" refers to The Eagle Pub which was on it. The third line implies that the story teller has spent his money “pub hopping”.
Straight forward so far, and then the curious phrase, “Pop! Goes the Weasel” appears. To “pop” is a slang word for “pawn”. “Weasel” is an example of the very entertaining Cockney rhyming slang. The Cockneys, working class English folk, take a word or phrase, find a rhyme for it, and use the rhyme instead of the word. “Weasel and stoat” rhymes with “coat” and rhyming slang shortens it to “weasel”, hence “weasel = coat”. If you are still following me and are curious, a stoat is furry creature from the ermine family.
So, what does the fourth line mean? It was traditional for working class people to own just one set of nice clothes, that they would save for church on Sunday. During hard times they would pawn their suit, or coat, on a Monday and claim it back before Sunday. So “Pop Goes the Weasel” means “to pawn the coat”.
On the other hand, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is an all-American nursery rhyme that was first published as a poem in 1830, by Sarah Hale of Boston. It was inspired by an actual incident, when, at the suggestion of her brother, a little girl really did bring her pet lamb to school. Naturally, it caused quite a commotion.
In the 1830’s, Lowell Mason, a leading figure in church music who composed over 1,500 hymns during his lifetime, set the poem to music and added the repeating lyrics to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. A timeless hit was created. What I find most interesting about this nursery rhyme is that the words of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” were the first ever recorded by Thomas Edison, on tin foil, on his phonograph.
“Pat-A-Cake” also known as “Pat-A-Cake, Pat-A-Cake, Baker’s Man”, is one of the oldest and best known English nursery rhymes. This rhyme is accompanied by a hand-clapping game played by two people, often a parent and child. It is common to replace some lyrics with a child’s name and initial with your own. For example, changing “mark it with a B, for baby and me” to “Mark it with an A, for Amy and me”.
The earliest historical record of “Pat-A-Cake” lists it as a rhyme in a play called, “The Campaigners” by Englishman Thomas D’Urfey, way back in 1698. In the play, a nurse tells her charges:
“…and pat-a-cake baker’s man,
So I will master as I can,
And prick it, and prick it,
And prick it and prick it and prick it
And throw’t in the oven”
The “prick it” refers to piercing the pastry. It’s sweet that the long history of this rhyme lets us know that the tradition of decorating cakes with the name or initial of a child goes back at least 300 years!
It’s fun sharing these fun facts about the songs we love here at Kidsongs. We hope that you find them fun, too. Let us know if you do!!
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