Cry over Spilt Milk (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Cry over Spilt Milk"?

The term "cry over spilt milk" means to be upset over something that cannot be fixed, often something minor.
Cry over Spilt Milk (Origin)
This idiom often features in a longer sentence such as "do not cry over spilt milk" or "there's no point in crying over spilt milk." In this saying, the "spilt milk" is a metaphor for a bad event that has already happened. It is therefore advice not to dwell pointlessly about a mistake that can no longer be changed.

This saying originates from Welsh historian and author James Howell's "Paramoigraphy (Proverbs)," which was published in 1659. It features the following advice:
  • "No weeping for shed milk."
Over the following century, the wording evolved, and, by 1738, it was recorded as "Tis a folly to cry for spilled milk" by the Irish author Jonathan Swift in a witty essay called "Polite Conversation."

Spilled Milk or Spilt Milk

Grammatically speaking, the word "spilled" or "spilt" is a past participle being used as an adjective. In the UK, the words "spilled" and "spilt" are interchangeable, but not in the US. If you're following US writing conventions, use "spilled." Read more about spilled and spilt.

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