What does auld lang syne mean? Experts explain lyrics, origin and staying power of the New Year's song (2024)


By Aliza Chasan

/ CBS News

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, revelers across the globe will sing "Auld Lang Syne," a song about "old acquaintance be forgot" and, well, other lyrics people may not recall from the New Year's song.

The song's origins date back to an 18th-century Scottish ballad, with Auld Lang Syne eventually becoming a New Year's celebration staple. Experts explained the song's lyrics, origin and staying power.

What does "auld lang syne" mean?

Roughly translated, the phrase means "old long since," or "for old time's sake." The song title is actually in Scots language, which is similar to English, according to Scotland's national tourist board.

"'Auld Lang Syne' can be literally translated as 'Old Long Since,' but the literal English does not give a sense of what it means to a user of Scots, where it refers to a shared past underpinning the current relationships of a family, community or professional/social association," Professor Murray Pittock, a literary historian with the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, told CBS News. "As such it is more evocative, nostalgic and communally unifying than any simple English equivalent."

What are the song's origins?

Today's song comes from a publication by Scottish poet Robert Burns. The poet was trying to preserve Scottish language and culture after Scotland and England formed the United Kingdom, according to Scotland's national tourist board. So he traveled the country and collected old Scots poetry and songs, including "Auld Lang Syne."

What does auld lang syne mean? Experts explain lyrics, origin and staying power of the New Year's song (1)

"Burns said in one of the letters on view that he listened to an old man singing the song and that it had never been in print or in manuscript until he wrote it down from that old man singing," Christine Nelson, who once curated an exhibition on the songat the Morgan Library in Manhattan, told CBS News in 2012.

The song Burns wrote down can be traced back to "Auld Kyndness Forgot," which was preserved in a manuscript from 1568, Pittock said.

Historians believe that Burns substantially re-wrote the words.

"He didn't make any secret of the fact that he was doing what he called 'mending' these old songs," Nelson said in her 2012 interview. "So that they could be, you know, given to the public for posterity."

His words were first published in 1796, according to the Library of Congress. Burns also sent a slightly revised version to a publisher in 1793, but that version was not published until 1799 — three years after Burns' death. The best known set of words for Auld Lang Syne are the ones published in 1799.

Why do we sing the song every New Year's Eve?

While the song has Scottish roots, its popularity in the U.S. is owed to a Canadian.

Bandleader Guy Lombardo popularized it after he and his Royal Canadian Big Band played it on a New Year's Eve broadcast in 1929. In 1965, Lombardo told "LIFE" magazine that he came from a part of western Ontario home to a large Scottish population. In that area, it was traditional for bands to end every dance with "Auld Lang Syne."

What does auld lang syne mean? Experts explain lyrics, origin and staying power of the New Year's song (2)

"The main reason why Lombardo became identified as the Ghost of New Years Past, of New Years Present and of New Years Yet to Come, he says, 'is because Auld Lang Syne is our theme song — and was long before anyone ever heard us on the radio,'" "LIFE" Magazine reported.

After Lombardo's 1929 broadcast, "Auld Lang Syne" went on to become part of popular culture, playing in "Forrest Gump," "Sex and the City" and "When Harry Met Sally."

Harry and Sally even have a conversation about the song, trying to figure out its meaning.

"My whole life, I don't know what this song means," Harry, played by actor and comedian Billy Crystal, says in the 1989 movie. "I mean, 'should old acquaintance be forgot?' Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances or does it mean that if we happen to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot 'em?"

"Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something," Meg Ryan's character Sally responds. "Anyway, it's about old friends."

TheU.S. Embassy in Italymaybe explained it best in a blog post: "The lyrics of 'Auld Lang Syne' pose the question: How do we best remember the memories, friends and experiences of years before? The answer, Burns tells us, is to 'share a cup of kindness yet' as we journey into the new year."

  • New Year's Eve

Aliza Chasan

Aliza Chasan is a digital producer at 60 Minutes and CBSNews.com. She has previously written for outlets including PIX11 News, The New York Daily News, Inside Edition and DNAinfo. Aliza covers trending news, often focusing on crime and politics.

What does auld lang syne mean? Experts explain lyrics, origin and staying power of the New Year's song (2024)


Why is Auld Lang Syne sung at New Year? ›

Singing. Some songs—such as “A Guid New Year to ane a' A'”—were widely recognized. Others were created by families or local communities. With its emphasis on friendship, reminiscence, and parting, Burns' “Auld Lang Syne” expressed the essence of Hogmanay: bidding adieu to one year so another could begin.

What does "auld lang syne" mean in English pronunciation? ›

The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”

What does the poem Auld Lang Syne illustrate? ›

The lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are in the Scots language. The title, translated literally into standard English, is Old Long Since. The words can be interpreted as since long ago or for old times' sake. The lyrics are about old friends having a drink and recalling adventures they had long ago.

What is the reflection of Auld Lang Syne? ›

The phrase “auld lang syne” itself, which appears in the chorus of the song, is often interpreted as a reflection on the impermanence of life and the fleeting nature of time. The song's lyrics also emphasize the importance of friendship and the bonds that we form with others throughout our lives.

Why is Auld Lang Syne sung all over the world? ›

The phrase 'auld lang syne' roughly translates as 'for old times' sake', and the song is all about preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year. It is sung all over the world, evoking a sense of belonging,fellowship, and nostalgia.

Why did Auld Lang Syne become a tradition? ›

This was played just after midnight, and since his band's performance was being broadcast by radio to homes throughout the country, it inadvertently became a tradition throughout the country. Today, Auld Lang Syne is heard and beloved throughout the world.

What does Auld Lang Syne mean in Webster? ›

: the good old times. Etymology. from Scots, literally "old long ago"

What is the meaning of Auld? ›

adjective. a Scots word for old. Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers. Word origin.

What is the meaning of Auld Lang Syne brainly? ›

Literally, it translates to "old long since" which means "days gone by" as to "let's drink to days gone by" --- a befitting toast for the New Year.

What is the meaning of same old lang syne? ›

The song is an autobiographical narrative ballad told in the first person and tells the story of two long-ago romantic interests meeting by chance in a grocery store on Christmas Eve.

Why do we cross hands for Auld Lang Syne? ›

It is a custom observed worldwide by millions every New Year … now research has uncovered why revellers link arms when they sing Auld Lang Syne. A study of Robert Burns' best-loved song links the practice to freemasonry, where singing with arms crossed and hands joined was a parting ritual in many Lodges.

What does Auld Lang Syne mean in Anthropocene reviewed? ›

“Auld Lang Syne,” or “for old time's sake,” is synonymous with reminiscing. In “Auld Lang Syne,” Green writes about the beauty of raising a glass to friends you once loved, friends who helped to shape you into the person you are today, but yearning for times that are now gone.

What is the overall message of the song What a wonderful world? ›

Decades after its original release, Louis Armstrong's “What A Wonderful World” continues to inspire through its timeless message of love, peace, and harmony.

What is the story of the song reflection? ›

The song is performed after Mulan returns home following a humiliating and failed attempt to impress her matchmaker. The lyrical content expresses the way Mulan feels about wanting to show the world who she really is instead of pretending to be who she is not, but is afraid to disappoint her family by doing so.

What is the special song for New Year? ›

1. "Auld Lang Syne (The New Year's Anthem)," Mariah Carey.

Why do Filipinos love to sing this song during New Year's Celebration? ›

The lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne" talk about remembering old friends and times gone by, which can evoke feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality. This resonates with the Filipino value of close family ties and strong friendships, making it a fitting song to sing during New Year's celebrations.

What song plays when the ball drops on New Years? ›

Turn up the volume for "Auld Lang Syne"

We sing it every year after the ball drops, yet most people couldn't tell you its name or where it came from. Here is everything you need to know about “Auld Lang Syne,” that song we sing on New Year's Eve.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lilliana Bartoletti

Last Updated:

Views: 5251

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lilliana Bartoletti

Birthday: 1999-11-18

Address: 58866 Tricia Spurs, North Melvinberg, HI 91346-3774

Phone: +50616620367928

Job: Real-Estate Liaison

Hobby: Graffiti, Astronomy, Handball, Magic, Origami, Fashion, Foreign language learning

Introduction: My name is Lilliana Bartoletti, I am a adventurous, pleasant, shiny, beautiful, handsome, zealous, tasty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.