Sunday, January 01, 2006

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne my dear,
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

What the hell does that mean?

OK, I get that it’s a drinking song (cup o’kindness, anyone?). But considering this is referred to on the web as one of the best known songs in English-speaking countries, I wonder how many people really know what it means.

Obviously, people sing the song, by Robert Burns, to mark the New Year but several references I found on the web admit that most people have no idea what they’re singing and that many can only recall a fraction of the words. My guess is that by midnight, there’s been enough cups o’kindness enjoyed that fellow party goers don’t notice.

It literally translates from the Scottish as “old long since”. Does that clear things up for you? Didn’t think so.

The English version is “old long ago,” “times gone by” or “days gone by”. Now we’re getting somewhere. As we know, people in the U.S., U.K. and English-speaking Canada use it to signify the start of a new year. But did you know:

-- in Taiwan, it’s used as a graduation and a funeral song
-- in Japan, many stores play it to usher customers out when it’s closing time
-- in the U.K., it’s played at the end of the annual Trades Union Congress
-- in Korea, the lyrics of the national anthem were sung to this tune until the current anthem music was written
-- in the Maldives, this WAS the national anthem prior to 1972 – words and music
-- in Portugal, this song is used by boy scouts to mark a farewell
-- the University of Virginia’s fight song, “The Good Old Song” carries this tune.

While the Scottish took the song with them as they emigrated throughout the world, its association with New Year’s Eve is most commonly attributed to bandleader Guy Lombardo who used it on radio and later TV New Year’s Eve shows since 1929 (what a guy!). However, newspaper accounts dating back as early as 1896 describe party goers on both sides of the Atlantic singing it to usher in the new year.

Another interesting bit of trivia – the meter of “Auld Lang Syne” is identical to “America The Beautiful” and the songs can be sung perfectly with their lyrics switched.

I feel much better now. How about you?

Happy New Year!

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