‘Auld Lang Syne': You've heard it a thousand times, but what does it mean?

A longing for the past from the Scots


Decode DC is taking a diplomatic approach with this week’s Decode Dictionary phrase. Although it isn’t political, the Scottish phrase and song “Auld Lang Syne” can be heard every New Year’s. But what the heck does it mean?

What it means:

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish phrase that translates to "times gone by" or "long long ago.” Its significance today comes from a poem by Robert Burns written in 1788 that was then adapted to song. The poem, meant to convey the sense of longing for the past and old acquaintances, was paired with a traditional Scottish folk song and today is often heard at celebrations, graduations and, of course, the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve.

Where it comes from:

Singing “Auld Lang Syne” became a Scottish custom and spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scottish, English and Welsh residents emigrated around the world they took the song with them.  But it’s thanks to an American celebrity that we sing the song around the time the ball drops.

What it means today:

Singer and radio host Guy Lombardo is credited with linking the song with New Year’s when his band, the Royal Canadians, performed the tune between two radio programs in New York in 1929. The event was broadcast live on radio and by coincidence, it happened to play right after midnight. Lombardo went on to host New Year’s Eve gigs for many years and his program was the forerunner to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

[Also on DecodeDC: The TSA’s naughty list for 2014]

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