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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Olden Lore

No One Knows What “Auld Lang Syne” Means. Now, Guess What This Post Is About.


Okay, some people know what “Auld Lang Syne” means, and some might even know some, most, or even all of its lyrics. But why do we sing it at New Year’s … and what does it mean, anyway? Is this something we missed in school? A lost relic of times when we, as a people, drank buttered rum and roast goose at the holidays, somehow stowed away in the dusty attics of our minds, taken out once a year and covered with so many cobwebs that we can barely recognize it anymore? Depressed yet? Come inside, we will learn this together.

For starters, the phrase Auld lang syne is Scots, the language spoken in Lowland Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic, which is spoken in the Highlands), and is translated as “old long since,” but used more in the context of “long, long ago.” In the case of the song and the lyric “for auld lang syne,” it means something like “for old time’s sake.” The song that we know is a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 that was set to the tune of an older folk song. But the phrase had been used in poems and songs for centuries before that.

But what does it mean? Here are Burns’ lyrics, though they might not be of that much help, because much of it is in Scots. Lowland native David Tennant was unavailable, so we turned to Wikipedia for the English translation:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo (or my dear),
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp! (And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!)
and surely I’ll be mine! (and surely I’ll buy mine!)
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS
We twa hae run about the braes, (We two have run about the slopes,)
and pu’d the gowans fine; (and picked the daisies fine;)
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit, (But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,)
sin auld lang syne. (since auld lang syne.)
CHORUS
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn, (We two have paddled in the stream,)
frae morning sun till dine; (from morning sun till dine;)
But seas between us braid hae roar’d (But seas between us broad have roared)
sin auld lang syne. (since auld lang syne.)
CHORUS
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (And there’s a hand my trusty friend!)
and gie’s a hand o’ thine! (And give us a hand o’ thine!)
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught, (And we’ll take a right good-will draught,)
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS

Basically, it’s about getting drunk with people you currently enjoy while looking back on good times and remembering old friends, all while singing your sentimental, alcohol-soaked hearts out. The custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s began in Scotland, when the song was sung on Hogmany aka New Year’s Eve. This spread throughout the British Isles and immigrants brought the song and the custom with them as they settled all over the world. Since then, the song is sung at any occasion that calls for a hearty look back at good times and tradition, like some military events, graduations, funerals (because some people sing at funerals, bless their hearts), and anything marking the end of a good run.

In North America, the song became a New Year’s Eve staple thanks in large part to Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo, who started broadcasting his rendition of the song on the radio every year starting in 1929. He had a couple of versions of it, including this rousing one, which just SCREAMS disco (or just 1977):

He also has this gentler, “I just wanna drink champagne, eat chips and dip, and go to bed at 12:07″ version:

And now you know about “Auld Lang Syne.” No more excuses. And we triple dog dare you to sing the Scots lyrics tonight.

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  • http://twitter.com/STELLAZOMBIE42 STAR WALLS

    In Japan, it’s played over store PA systems to signal to customers that the store is about to close.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lynda-Bowen/1676002712 Lynda Bowen

    Mr Tennant is busy tonight and I’ll see you at the bar to drown your sorrows
    http://www.heatworld.com/Celeb-News/2011/12/David-Tennant-is-apparently-getting-married-today/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-LaPergola/81300432 Amanda LaPergola

    When I worked at a Renaissance Faire, we would close out the end-of-day “pub sing” with Auld Lang Syne.  Just thinking about it now is making me mist up.  Of course, I could just be nostalgic for giant, ham-flavored turkey legs.  Who isn’t really?

    Right gude willy-waughts for everyone!

  • http://twitter.com/cGt2099 Greg Davies/cGt2099

    Just wanted to say that I loved the headline.  Grabbed my attention immediately.  Kudos.

  • Anonymous

    “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687064559 Laura Girdwood

    As a lowland Scot, I thank you for the translation.  Whilst my Gran’s generation would probably understand all the song lyrics, some of the words have dropped out of common usage and so have become unintelligable to newer generations.  Mostly, I sing the chorus as that’s the only bit I know, the rest is sung as “ne ne ne”.  Quite like most British peoples attitude to the national anthem – they know the first couple of line and the chorus, the rest is “ne ne ne”. 

  • Anonymous

    Yay for accurate retelling!  Lombardo is from my home town in Canada and so many people get it wrong!  Thanks for putting up those renditions, it has been a long time (6 years … when I moved to the UK) since I heard them.  Happy New Year Mary Sue team!

  • Christy

    *sniff* Congrats to Mr. Tennant. Someone pass the whiskey…

  • http://twitter.com/Ultrafem Lisa M. Hayes

    Really? That’s awesome! LOL!

  • http://twitter.com/themoviefactor Kelley Mitchell

    you mean scotch ( ;

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000513348128 Kate Karlson

    Can…can I have David Tennant singing this please?