THERE’S been much amazement expressed in the media after a poll showed less than three per cent of the population of the UK know the words to Auld Lang Syne.

In fact this “discovery” was a piece of public relations puffery – or genius, take your pick – by Sainsbury’s, who commissioned the poll and were rewarded with global headlines. Sadly for them, most commentators forgot to mention the bit at the end of the supermarket chain’s press release – lines pushing its own-brand Taste The Difference Champagne and Prosecco – so it’s only fair to mention there’s money off on both until Ne’erday.

Facts are chiels that winna ding, as Burns wrote, so among the shocking news from the poll was the finding that 42 per cent of millennials admit they don’t know a single word. And 56 per cent of 18-24 year olds don’t know who penned the song, while a further three per cent think Mariah Carey wrote the lyrics. In Scotland, just seven per cent of those polled said they knew all the lyrics, while more than 54 per cent admitted they know hardly any.

Sainsbury’s breathlessly informed us that “eight out of ten Scots correctly identified Robert Burns as the man who wrote the song.” Which prompts the question – who did the other two out of ten think wrote it?


ACTUALLY, he didn’t – the tune and the original lyrics, that is. In 1788, Burns was in the midst of the project for which he should be venerated by every Scot for all eternity, namely his recording of tunes and lyrics handed down vocally over centuries. These old Scottish folk songs and poems were set to be lost as they had not ever been collected and published, and Burns almost single-handedly inspired the movement that preserved them.

It was Burns’s greatest contribution to the cause of maintaining the Scots language and culture which was then under threat from the “North Britons” who wanted to Anglicise Scotland and further the Union.

We know that Burns wrote to the compilers of the extraordinary serial publication the Scottish Musical Museum that Auld Lang Syne was not originally his.

He told them: “The following song, 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.”

He would eventually contribute a third of the 600 items in the long-running series that preserved so much of Scottish culture.

The first verse of Auld Lang Syne is very similar to that which was published in 1711 by James Watson as an “old ballad”. Yet as he often did with tunes and lyrics he gathered, Burns “tidied up” that verse and then added three more verses which are indisputably, marvellously and majestically those of Burns at his lyrical best.


IN brief, Auld Lang Syne is about two old friends meeting up and recalling the bygone days of their childhood, and renewing their friendship over a glass or two – a “cup of kindness” and a “right gude willie-waught”. We wouldn’t insult National readers by translating the Scots terms, but there’s one practice everyone should know – the linking of crossed arms should really only be done in that final verse, but it is perfectly acceptable to keep them linked during the final chorus, especially at Scottish weddings as it’s the only way some people stay standing up.


EMIGRATION. Almost as soon as Burns wrote it, the song was taken up by Scots, and later the Scots-Irish, as a tune to mark Hogmanay, and it was also used at the end of ceilidhs. In the torrent of 19th century emigration, the song went with Scots everywhere and was enthusiastically acclaimed by the English and the Americans, and later in Soviet Russia where Burns was hugely popular. It has been translated into most of the world’s languages and has become effectively the world’s New Year song. It has also been a staple of films since motion pictures first appeared – from Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkie in 1937, the cast of It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946, The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, and perhaps most famously in When Harry Met Sally in 1989.


INDEED, and many people say the “ither wan” is the better. The late great Jean Redpath popularised it in the 1970s and 80s, and folk singers such as Rod Paterson made it their own.

Scottish singer Mairi Campbell and her husband David Francis, performing as folk duo The Cast, made the alternative tune very famous when their recording was used in the 2008 film Sex and the City. Watch their performance on Youtube and you’ll realise its attraction.


THERE is general agreement on 99 per cent of the words, except that some, such as Sainsbury’s, use “dear” instead of “jo”. Here’s the version of the Robert Burns World Federation.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne.


For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!

And surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,

Sin auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

And there ‘s a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie ‘s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,

For auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

Have a Happy New Year, and please feel free to show The National to anyone needing to know the words.