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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


syne adv. since, before now, ago; next, afterwards; then, so, etc.

Syne is an extremely versatile word that can fulfil several different grammatical functions and has a range of meanings, many of which relate to time. The word has been used throughout the history of Scots and is first recorded meaning next, subsequently, or then.

In Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie's sixteenth-century History and Cronicles of Scotland, we find such examples as:

"Heirefter the king depairtit out of Sanctandrois ... syne passit to Falkland ... Syne passit to Stirling".

Thanks to the long-standing historical exodus of Scots from their own country, Auld Lang Syne is recognised in many countries throughout the world as the theme tune marking the beginning of the New Year of the Gregorian calendar. Auld Lang Syne is, quite literally, 'old long ago', though a more idiomatic translation such as 'old times' or 'old friendship' does it better justice.

Inevitably, in some far-flung parts of the globe, something that we might call the 'Mairzy Doats syndrome' has produced olanzyne misunderstandings that are more than 'a little bit jumbled and jivey'. Traditional Scottish Songs are not strangers to this phenomenon, and indeed the word mondegreen, 'a misinterpreted word or phrase', owes its existence to one such incident.

In Harper's Magazine in 1954, American author Sylvia Wright coined this term in honour of a childhood memory:

"my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's 'Reliques', and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, Oh, where hae ye been? They hae slain the Earl Amurray, And Lady Mondegreen".

Those who remember the fate of the Bonnie Earl will recall that they in fact 'laid him on the green'. Over the festive season, while enjoying a guid-willie waucht (a good-will dram) or pint-stowp (mug, tankard), or when takin the haun o a trusty fiere (friend, comrade, partner), spare a thought for the Scots legacy of times past.


  This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott.

First Published 3rd January 2007