Daily Archives: January 1, 2010

syne

Jess looked around at the party. She glanced at a pile of oversized gift-wrapped boxes sitting nearby as decorations, scanned the assembled masses of word freaks rubbing elbows in hubbub, took measure of the supply of syllabub, squinted at the walls. Whatever clocks there might have been were obscured in tenebrity. “How are we supposed to know when it’s midnight?”

She turned her focus to my left wrist. “Are you wearing one of your cool watches?”

I pulled one of my French cuffs from the sleeve of my tuxedo jacket to display a chronometric cufflink. “I have this. But I doubt it will be accepted as the official time. Especially since –” I extended the other cuff with its matching cufflink – “I also have this, and they’re not in perfect agreement.”

“Well, I don’t see a TV. We’re going to need some kind of sign.”

Maury stepped up, having escaped the serial beleaguerment of Wen Raey. “You’ll get a sign,” He said. “An auld lang sign.”

“Oh, that Burns,” Jess said, smirking. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?”

Old, I don’t know,” Maury said, glancing back at Wen, “but some new ones, perhaps.”

“Yes,” I said, “it’s not so lang syne I met Wen.”

“When what?” Jess said, almost certainly disingenuously.

“And,” said Maury, “when she left you, syne she met me.”

“Wait,” Jess said, “that’s another syne.”

“Well,” Maury replied, “syne first meant ‘then’ or ‘next’ – actually it’s a contraction of sithen, which means ‘next,’ ‘thereafter,’ and so on.”

“And then it added the meaning ‘since,'” I said, “and after that it came also to have the meaning ‘before,’ as in lang syne – ‘long before.'”

“Ha!” exclaimed Jess. “That’s not a syne! That’s a co-syne!”

“Cosine?” I said. “Don’t go on a tangent. I’m not cosigning your mortgage.”

“It’s not a cosine,” Maury said. “It’s just a secant meaning. Anyway, auld lang syne has meant ‘days of yore’ or ‘once upon a time’ since long before Robert Burns.”

“Perhaps,” Jess proposed, “since so many people sing the song with a [z] instead of an [s] on the syne, we should just assign that meaning to that pronunciation and let the [s] be the original.”

“What the heck,” I said, “most people don’t really know what it means, or give it much thought. It might as well be a magical incantation. Burns’s verses are rarely quoted right anyway.”

“It’s just a pretty-looking word,” Maury added, “with that y there, like the top half of an hourglass plus the tail of sand trickling down.”

Jess was looking around again. “None of which helps us to know…”

But of course we should have counted on Elisa Lively to let us know. With no warning, she erupted from the largest decorated box, a metre or so away, and screamed “Happy New Year! Wooooooo!” Then she opened a bottle of fizzy in race-car-driver fashion.

And then the assembled masses proceeded to give the lie to my assertion about correct quotation, as they all sang:

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.

Maury, Jess, and I started waving our arms up and down in sequence as we sang.

“What are you doing?!” Elisa whooped in our direction.

And, in unison as though by design, we replied, “The syne wave!”