What Does 'Auld Lang Syne' Mean?

family with sparklers
We sing the words every New Year's Eve but does anyone know what they mean? martin-dm/Getty Images

You know that song you hear every New Year's Eve? The one about not forgetting old acquaintances. Did you ever wonder what that phrase is in the chorus? Is it:

  • For old ang zine
  • Far hold ang zyne
  • For old aunt Gzyne
  • Farheld ang zyne
  • Farheld ang sign
  • For old ang sign
  • For old angsign
  • Foothold and sign

Actually, it's not any of these. On New Year's Eve, the most common song for most English-speaking people to sing is "Auld Lang Syne." Isn't it funny how it's possible to sing and hear a song so many times and have no idea what it means? And wouldn't it be funny if it meant "Big Pink Elephants"?


A good sub-question is, what language is it?

It turns out that "Auld Lang Syne" is an extremely old Scottish song that was first written down in the 1700s. Robert Burns is the person whose transcription got the most attention, so the song is associated with him.

"Auld lang syne" literally means "old long since" or, more conversationally, "times gone by." So (incorporating a couple of other translations) when we sing this song, we are saying, "We'll drink a cup of kindness yet for times gone by" [source: Herbert].

The song became associated with New Year's Eve when Guy Lombardo and his band played it at a New Year's Eve concert in 1929 that was broadcast on radio.


Auld Lang Syne FAQ

What language is Auld Lang Syne?
Auld Lang Syne is an extremely old Scottish song so it's written in the Scots-language.
Who wrote Auld Lang Syne?
Robert Burns' 1788 transcript gets the most attention, though he didn't actually come up with the original poem. He is, however, best known for being the first person to write it down, setting it to the tune of a traditional folk song.
How do you pronounce Auld Lang Syne?
"Auld lang syne" is pronounced phonetically as old lang sign.
What does Auld Lang Syne mean?
"Auld lang syne" literally means "old long since" or, more conversationally, "times gone by."
What does a cup of kindness mean?
"A cup of kindness" refers to the tradition of raising a glass with feelings of "good will, friendship and kind regard" and remembrance of "noble deeds" past.