Auld Lang Syne lyrics: What's the meaning of Auld Lang Syne's lyrics?

For many, New Year is a time filled with tradition – whether this is raising a toast, welcoming someone through the front door after midnight or singing a traditional song. One song in particular is renowned for being sung at New Year, and that is Auld Lang Syne.

The Scottish folk song is known for featuring in many a festive classic film, including Its A Wonderful Life.

Typically, revellers cross their arms in front of themselves and grab the hands of the person next to them, shaking them as they sing.

The exact origins of Auld Lang Syne are not known, but according to a letter from 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, it’s an “old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.”

The lyrics feature old English, which may be tricky for some to remember once they have had a few drinks.

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For auld lang syne, my jo,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

What does Auld Lang Syne mean?

The phrase Auld Lang Syne itself roughly translates to ‘old long since’ or ‘for the sake of old times’ and is a reflection on times gone by.

This is perhaps what makes it such a perfect New Year’s song, as many people reflect on the year that has gone, as well as the year to come.

This New Year may be more of a time for reflection than most, as not only do we welcome a New Year but a new decade.

The song, in general, is about two friends reflecting on their lives, catching up over a couple of drinks.

Here are a few definitions of Scots words used in the song:

  • Pint-stowp: Half an imperial gallon, a generous amount when you’re buying a round of drinks.
  • Braes: Hills
  • Pou’d: Picked/plucked
  • Gowans: Daisies
  • Burn: Brook
  • Fit: Foot
  • Fere: Friend
  • Gude-willie waught: A good-spirited gulp or swig

Originally the words were written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788, but he revealed he composed it after hearing an old man on his travels.

There is an earlier ballad written James Watson, named ‘Old Long Syne’, which dates as far back as 1711, and the use of the phrase can be found in poems from as early as the 17th century.

The tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne began in Scotland, when on Hogmanay -the last day of the year – the song would be sung while hands are joined in a huge circle.

It is also sung at Burns Night celebrations, at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, at passing out parades for the Royal Navy and more military ceremonies around the world.