Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Does Auld Lang Syne Mean?

Most Americans know at least the opening line of Robert Burn's poem "Auld Lang Syne," set to a Scottish folk tune which is at once melancholy and joyous. It doesn't take a linguist to realize that "auld" is simply "old" in Burns' Scottish dialect. But beyond the initial question - "Should auld acquaintance be forgot / and never brought to mind?" - most Americans' knowledge of the lyrics gets rather fuzzy, to say nothing of additional Scottish oddities. 

Perhaps most puzzling are the title words themselves: auld lang syne?  I'm no expert, but I'm told that "lang" means "long" - no big surprise there - and "syne" means "since."  As sometimes occurs in Latin or certain English texts, the noun involved is omitted, but can be inferred: old [things] long since [gone].  Or, more poetically, we might translate it as something like "times long gone."

Below is the full text, with glosses on some of the other words likely to befuddle modern singers.


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 [dear],
for auld lang syne,
we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be [buy] your pint-stoup [cup]!
and surely I'll be [buy] mine!
And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa [two] hae [have] run about the braes * [slopes],
and pou'd [picked] the gowans [daisies] fine;
But we've wander'd mony [many] a weary fit [foot],
sin' [since] auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa [two] hae [have] paidl'd [paddled] in the burn [stream],
frae [from] morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid [broad] hae [have] roar'd
sin' [since] auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere [friend]!
and gie's [give me] a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak' a right gude-willie [goodwill] waught [draught],
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS


* You may know this term from the opening line of The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond.
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