So, I'm actually a native American English speaker, but I can't figure out what 'aye' could mean in this song.

"At the sad decree...they'll depart for aye", "for alas I'm doomed...for aye".

The Lost Soul by Doc Watson Family

I already know aye can mean "yes", but it doesn't make sense here. I looked it up and could only find the Scottish "always/still" (which is archaic, on top of that), but I still have doubts, especially since the speakers are from Southern USA (North Carolina).

So, does the phrase "for aye" really mean "for always; forever" or is it something else? Thanks for any input! :D

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    As a Scot, I can assure you that this use of "aye" is most definitely NOT archaic. This information is from the horse's mouth as it were.
    – Morag
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 23:46
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    According to this entry at Merriam-Webster aye means "always or forever" in this context. Note its similarity to the English contraction "e'er" which is most often used in poetry. Share and enjoy. Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 15:11

4 Answers 4


In this case, aye almost certainly does mean always. For one thing it makes perfect sense contextually. Moreover, the connection with Scottish actually makes a lot of sense. We learn from Morag, in another answer, that aye is still used in Scotland. Even if it weren't, archaic English or Scottish would not be out of place in this song.

The Watson Family lived in the Appalachian Mountains, a region settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants. Difficulty of travel kept them functionally isolated, and the pre-radio music of that region is known for strong ties to old ballads of Scotland, England and Ireland. Here's a great radio piece about this history: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/10/01/wayfaring-strangers-book

The corpus of Appalachian folk music also includes a lot of references to political roles that never really existed in the U.S. - Lords, ladies, knights, kings, etc. Examples abound here: http://www.contemplator.com/america/index.html


I am British, living in Scotland for 35yrs, background in literature and languages. I can assure you it means 'always' here. Sometimes pronounced 'I' and sometimes ay like bay. We sing a hymn at church which contains it and the latter is the pronunciation used by the Scottish congregation there, though I would normally read it as 'I'. There may be parts of the country where people still say aye meaning always, but it is a dialect word, not used nationally in everyday speech.

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    In the words of the old aphorism, "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” and the King's Scots had both an army and a navy. Scots shares a common ancestor with English, but they parted ways around 1100, and were re-merged when the King's Scots was deprecated for geopolitical reasons in the 17th Century, "Aye" in the sense used in the question is therefore a continuance of use of Scots, rather than use of a dialect of Late Modern English. It remains in use nation-wide in Scotland.
    – Euan M
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 0:30

Yes, the phrase "for aye" really means "for always; forever" in this context.

Here's the Chambers Dictionary definition : "always; still; continually", derived from 13th Century Norse.

Aye is also defined at length in the Dictionary of the Scots Language

Here are some contemporaneous Scots examples.

"He'll aye be in trouble".

"She'll aye hae a job on her hauns unless she can get thon scunners tae gie her mair ay the time o day".

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    I'm a native-speaker of both Scots and English.
    – Euan M
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 0:41

Going off of what Bob Jarvis said, e'er, which is a contraction of 'ever' would make sense contextually. "Through me among the people lost for ever." (line from Dante's Inferno. "Through me among the people lost for aye.")

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