“Don’t cry over spilt milk” is a commonly used idiom that suggests someone shouldn’t worry about something that’s already happened. It’s a great example of an idiom that takes some context to understand. It’s unlikely that someone seeing this phrase for the first time will know right away what it refers to. This is why idioms are often so tricky for new English speakers to grasp or for those who just haven’t come across a particular phrase before.
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Meaning of “Don’t cry over spilt milk”
“Don’t cry over spilt milk” is used to remind someone that there’s no point crying, complaining, or generally getting upset over something that’s already happened. The milk is already out of the cup, on the table, or on the chair, and there’s no way it’s getting back in. The phrase can be used lightheartedly or more cruelly.
When To Use “Don’t cry over spilt milk”
“Don’t cry over spilt milk” is a colloquialism that should only be used among friends, family, and close colleagues. It would likely not be appropriate in more professional conversations. Someone might use the phrase after another makes a mistake. For example, if a friend gets into a fender bender, you might say, “don’t cry over spilt milk” as a way of telling them that there’s nothing they can do about it now. There’s no point in crying or complaining about it. It’s better to get on with life and resolve the issue as best as possible. Another possible situation could be if someone loses a job or misses out on some other opportunity.
Additionally, depending on who you’re talking to, there are different ways to use the phrase “don’t cry over spilt milk.” You could use the phrase cruelly, suggesting that someone needs to “shut up” and get over something. One might also use it disingenuously, suggesting that they don’t really care that something bad happened to the person complaining.
Example Sentences With “Don’t cry over spilt milk”
- Well, you know what they say, Mark. There’s no use in crying over spilt milk.
- Joy, there’s nothing you can do about it now. Stop crying over spilt milk.
- I just told her, “there’s no use in crying over spilt milk,” and she freaked out and hit me!
- My boss glared at me after I told him there’s no use in crying over spilt milk after the meeting.
Why Do Writers Use “Don’t cry over spilt milk?”
Writers use “don’t cry over spilt milk” in the same way that people do in everyday speech. This is why idioms can be so helpful in dialogue. They help convey the reality that people are looking for in dialogue. Making a conversation between two people feel real is one of the hardest and most important things to do in short stories and novels. But, it should be noted that idioms often stand out more than they help. If someone uses the idiom incorrectly or awkwardly, it’s possible that it does more harm than good.
Origins of “Don’t cry over spilt milk”
Like most idioms, “don’t cry over spilt milk” has an unknown origin. There are several points of interest, though. Some suggest that the phrase was first used in 1872 in a book called Once a Week. The passage reads:
A correspondent of the same paper, who signs himself ‘Octogenarian,’ raised the question of the date when ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk’ first came into proverbial use.
At this point, it appears that the phrase was well-known enough that it could be included in this passage. This suggests that the origins are much older. Usually, idioms start off with different phrasing and/or different words . One example of this appears in Katharine Bereford; or, The shade and sunshine of woman’s life from 1852. The line reads:
No weeping for shed milk.
One even older possibility dates all the way back to 1659 with James Howel and his Paramoigaphy in which a similar version of the above phrase is used. One last possibility that might be of interest is that the phrase might be related to faery lore and the idea of putting out milk, in small shrines, for faeries to drink. If it spilt, it wasn’t anything to worry about. The faeries just got a little bit more.
- “Bite off more than you can chew.”
- “Don’t give up your day job.”
- “Get a taste of your own medicine.”
- “Costs an arm and a leg.”
- “Add insult to injury.”
- “In for a penny in for a pound.”