What the heck does “Auld Lang Syne” mean?

It’s New Year’s Eve. If you’re staying up, there’s at least a 50/50 chance that somebody around you is going to break into a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne. But what does it mean? Well, the short answer is that it’s Scots for “Days of Long Ago.” For a slightly more detailed explanation, keep reading. And feel free to listen while you read!

As you might have gathered, “Auld Lang Syne” is not English… or not exactly. In fact, the song we sing today was originally written in Scots, a Germanic language spoken in certain regions of Scotland which has similar roots to English. So, the text sounds familiar to English readers but isn’t exactly intelligible.

So where did the song come from? Well, we don’t really know where it started, but we do know how it got popularized. In the late 1700’s, Scottish poet Robert Burns was walking around town when he heard an old man singing a song to the tune of a traditional folk melody. Burns liked the song so much he wrote it down, submitted it to a museum, and then went about re-working it into an original poem, published in 1788.

Most of the original poem is fairly unintelligible to English-speakers (it includes such doozies as “we twa hae run about the braes, and pou’d the gowans fine”), but Wikipedia users were kind enough to translate it into English for us mere mortals. Here’s the full English text…

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and days of long ago?

For days of long ago, my dear,
for days of long ago,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for days of long ago.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for days of long ago.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since days of long ago.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine†;
But seas between us broad have roared
since days of long ago.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for days of long ago.


So there you have it, folks! That’s what “Auld Lang Syne” is all about. Happy 2015!

New Years at Time's Square

Image Credit: Replytojain on English Wikipedia

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