Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne: The Song That Everybody Sings But Hardly Anyone Seems To Understand

Thanks to Guy Lombardo -- and, yes, I'm old enough to remember watching his last few New Year's Eve broadcasts -- this song became associated with New Year's Eve.  But that's not what "Auld Lang Syne" is about.
When I was doing my research for my dissertation (called a thesis in the US) at the University of Edinburgh, I had to teach myself Scots -- at least to read it and to understand it, anyway.  I bought dictionaries, grammar books, drills, CDs with recorded accents -- and I studied them all so I could understand both the language itself and the basic concepts behind the use of it even when English has been force-taught in Scottish schools for four centuries.  (All this had to do with my dissertation, if you're wondering.)
One of the results is that I can read Robert Burns' poetry now without needing a translation.  (Another is that I don't have to read the subtitles on youtube videos of Susan Boyle interviews.)
In Scotland, "Auld Lang Syne" isn't just for New Year's Eve; it's used for formal occasions to bid farewell.  (And if you're with the right group of people, it can get a bit violent.  It's usually sung with everyone in a circle, hands crossed and holding onto those of the person next to you.  Some groups I've been in like to drag participants in and out of the circle on the chorus, trying to see who can remain standing.  It's rather fun.)
However, the song lyrics aren't actually about saying goodbye; they're about seeing an old friend one recalls from childhood after many years have passed -- and about having a few drinks to celebrate the occasion.  (They ARE Scots, you know.  Binge drinking is a Scottish national pastime.)
So, let's ring in 2012 with a little ditty from 1788 in the original Scots:

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 dear, 
For auld lang syne. 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne. 

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp! 
And surely I'll be mine! 
And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

We twa hae run about the braes, 
And pou'd the gowans fine; 
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit, 
Sin' auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn, 
Frae morning sun till dine; 
But seas between us braid hae roar'd 
Sin' auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

And there's a hand, my trusty fere! 
And gie's a hand o' thine! 
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught, 
For auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c.

Here's an out-of-sync video of one of my favorite versions: Boney M. (Note: they mispronounce the word "gies" in it, though.)  I love how they preserve the upbeat nature of the song.
I also like this Pink Martini version of the song.


  1. I love this song. It makes me a little sad each time I hear it.

  2. Uh, but, Rick, the whole point of my post was that it's NOT actually a sad song, but a happy one.

  3. I always imagine crying at this song...because old friends will NOT be forgotten.