Being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed.
Note: Usually this phrase is said as “it’s no use crying over spilt milk,” which means that getting upset over certain things, like spilled milk, is not going to fix it.
The Origin Of ‘Crying Over Spilled Milk’
The earliest that I could find this phrase in writing with the similar wording that it has today is from a book called Once A Week, 1872:
“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.”
This expression was already a known saying at that time, so it obviously must be older, and indeed it is. There’s a book by Hannah Maria Jones called Katharine Bereford; or, The shade and sunshine of woman’s life, 1852, and there’s a part from it that reads:
“But it’s no use fretting over shed milk.”
Apparently, though, the saying is even older. It’s said that James Howell, a historian and writer, used the phrase in a book called called Paramoigraphy (Proverbs), 1659:
“No weeping for shed milk.”
This phrase is over 350 years old and counting. While plenty of expressions come and go over the centuries, old sayings like this one have remained in common use.
- My kids were upset because they had burnt their toast, so I told them that it’s no use crying over spilt milk and to just throw it away. They can always try to make more.
- Bill’s car was heavily damaged in an accident and is no longer functional. He was angry about the accident, but he realized getting upset wouldn’t change anything; there was no point crying over spilled milk.
Note: There are times when a phrase’s origin is not known. In such cases, what’s usually provided on the page is an explanation that talks about how the phrase may have originated. Or if not that, then I’ll usually try to mention the earliest known quote of an expression being used in writing. These quotes come from old newspapers, poems, or books most of the time, and are meant to give you an idea on how far back in history an expression goes. So, for example, if I quote a book from the year 1809 because it uses a certain term, then it’s at least that old.