It’s Not “Pop Goes The Weasel,” But It Does Pop.

Microwave Popcorn
Microwave Popcorn | Photo by

Those of us who are old enough remember the old nursery rhyme “Pop Goes The Weasel,” but what did it mean? The rhyme came from the Cockney slang in England. There are various theories concerning the exact meaning and what follows is one of the most logical explanations. It comes from and goes like this. In Cockney to pop is the slang word for pawn and weasel comes from “weasel and stoat” meaning coat. The way they are put together comes from the tradition that people wore their “Sunday Best” clothes to Church on Sunday. The poorest people would have to pawn their good suit or coat during the week to have money and then reclaim their suit or coat on Sunday to wear to church. That’s how “Pop Goes The Weasel” means ” Pawn The Coat.” Take a listen to the full rhyming song.

That is not the “pop” I have in mind though. There is a very popular snack food that has been around for many more years than you might think. Recently, I placed a rather flat bag into my microwave and a few minutes later out came a bag practically overflowing with buttered popcorn. I started wondering just how long has popcorn been used as a food? We all know how tasty movie theater popcorn is, especially when it is slathered with real butter and salt, but I needed to know who first used it and when they came up with the idea.

Ancient Corn
Ancient Aztec Corn With Statue Of Chicomecoatl Corn God | Photo by shutterstock

Here are the results of my research. According to an article in “infoplease” from Sandbox Networks, Inc. written by Holly Hartman “Archaeologists have found 80,000-year-old corn pollen below Mexico City. Because this pollen is almost exactly the same as modern popcorn pollen, researchers believe that ‘cave people” most likely had popcorn.” The article went on to say “The oldest popcorn ever found was discovered in the “Bat Cave” in central Mexico. It is thought to be about 5,600 fears old.” As strange as it may seem, actual dust-covered popcorn was found in a Utah cave that looked freshly popped despite being about 1,000-years-old.

Michigan State University researchers have reported that popcorn was used in Pre-Colombian China and India also. It spread into Europe when the Spanish explorers and conquerors returned home from the “New World.”

Cracker jack
Cracker Jack Old/New Boxes | Image by

According to Wikipedia “The term “popped corn” first appeared in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. The product Cracker Jack, registered in 1896 was made with popcorn that was popped by hand.

Popcorn Street Cart
1880’s Street Popcorn Wagon | Image by Wikipedia

Popcorn grew in popularity during the Great Depression owing to the fact that it was so inexpensive costing only 5 to 10 cents per bag. When I was a kid I remember the ways popcorn was made at home. Usually in a pot or pan with oil and kernels of raw corn.

Jiffy Pop
Jiffy Pop Popcorn | Photo by slworking2 through flickr

Then, came the magic of “Jiffy Pop” Popcorn. It came in an aluminum foil covered container with a handle. The  container was placed on the burner of the stove and had to be shaken so as not to burn the corn with too intense heat.

Microwave Popcorn
Microwave Popcorn | Photo by

Air Poppers” were invented to pop the corn without the use of vegetable oil as a healthier option. Today, microwave popcorn has become commonplace. In a previous column I explained the history behind the invention of the microwave oven. Dr. Percy Spencer invented it to heat food and one of the first food items he heated was popcorn.

Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn
Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popcorn | Image by

Orville Redenbacher became well-known for his various types of gourmet popcorn including air popped and microwave popcorn. Today we take the idea of microwave popcorn for granted. So, the next time you place the bag in the microwave at home or at work and press the start button just remember how many years it took to get from the thousands-of-years-old corn that was popped over an open fire in Mexico to this ready-to-eat in just a couple minutes microwave popcorn.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].


Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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