Famous Sayings: #7 — ‘Crying Over Spilt Milk’

April 24, 2016

There’s no use crying over spilt milk.

Greetings! As I said last Sunday, I generally have a plan for the idioms and phrases I choose to analyze every week. That doesn’t mean I can’t change plans every now and again. It turns out this is such a Sunday.


Why ‘Spilt Milk’?

On Thursday, I gained a new follower and my curiosity took me to her blog. One post that stood out to me was “Pick up the broken pieces.” In her post sparkyjen reblogged a post of the same name. That post was written another one of my followers, Ngobesing Romanus. (I was thinking of doing a reblog of the same post, but it would be better to ask permission and the post would have gone out immediate and bore the name of Ngobesing Romanus’ post.) Anyway, in her post, sparkyjen cited a familiar phrase, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

The two posts inspired me. I left a comment on sparkyjen’s post. As I was typing, I realized I could use the saying some time. However, my thoughts on it made it obvious that I needed to address the saying sooner than later.

It turns out it was sooner. I liked this phrase more than the one I originally lined up. This is a saying that I am familiar with. It’s fairly common and sometimes it has been used as a pun. And the message I have at the end if so important that I need to get to it as soon as possible.


What is the Origin of the Saying?

The origin of “Spilt milk” isn’t entirely clear but it could go back at least 357 years.

My Initial Search

The first source I found on the matter was knowyourphrase.com website. One source given was 1659 book Paramoigraphy (Proverbs) by James Howell, a historian and writer. Here is a line in the book:

No weeping for shed milk.

Another source that was quoted is the 1888 book Banking under Difficulties. The book has a line that is much closure to the modern usage:

“It was no use, however, crying over spilt milk.”

As stated at the page I visited, the writer for this could not find the book itself. You should know that didn’t stop me from trying to find it online. I would anyway since I like to look at more than one source for these. The second source given on the first page would need to be confirmed, too.

My Advanced Search

I looked up James Howell on Wikipedia. We all know about the site’s reliability issues, but many of the entries are legit and it the site often serves as a good starting point for an advanced search for information. I’ll cite the page although I am using nothing from it besides confirming the name James Howell and his book Paramoigraphy (Proverbs).

From there, one of the first places I looked was the Internet Archive. Perhaps I didn’t do a proper search, but I was unable to find anything there. That’s an amazing website, but it might not have everything one is looking for and the search function needs work. Regardless, it has certainly helped me with a class assignment or two. And of course, I have visited the Archive while working on some of these Featured Posts.

This didn’t stop my search, as I finally found an online archive with the text from the book. The University of Michigan Digital Library has the text, but it was in linked sections. The sentence in question was definitely on the page I was looking for once I searched for the exact phrase. You can view the line on Page 40 of the Additional Proverbs section, at line 16.

Next, I searched for the second book cited. Text for Banking under Difficulties can be found on Google Books. (Note: There is a limit for a preview, so you would need to use the exact quote for search terms. Follow the link I provided and search inside with the quote.)

My final stop was the Digitized Resource Viewer of the Library of Australia. The passage in question is on Page 135.

I feel that more context should be added to the line provided by the know your phrase website:

The book by Preshaw contains real entries from a journal. In Chapter XXI, Preshaw tells of a story recounted to him by a man that had various occupations, including that of a clerk, a gold-digger, paper seller and general postman. One of that man’s experiences was when he was in Greymouth (in New Zealand). A digger came up to him and offered to show him a shortcut to Notown. Before they departed, they got some liquor. On their travels, the two men got lost and settled on a summit during nightfall. The man took a drink from the digger’s rum and woke up the next morning with a few surprises.

“Next morning I awoke!  Yes, I found that I had slept, that the grog must have been drugged, and that my guide (?) had decamped, having robbed me of all my cash and two of the most valuable of the watches entrusted to my charge.  Here was a predicament!  I had had nothing to eat since the previous night.  I was utterly bushed, and half stupefied with the drug that had been used.  It was no use, however, crying over spilt milk.  I started in what I thought was the direction of Notown, and after two days of utter misery, found myself utter worn out on the summit of what appeared to be a dividing range.  Which side should I descend?  If I made a mistake I knew I was too exhausted to retrace my steps.  My late friend had left me a solitary shilling.”


What Does the Saying Mean?

Tbqh, I never deeply pondered the meaning, although I had one idea. To me, the saying was a warning for someone not to be preoccupied or upset with trivial matters.

However, the definition offered by the know your phrase website is as follows:

Being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed.

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 Cambridge Dictionaries Online has this definition:

it’s no use crying over spilled milk saying

› said to emphasize that it is not useful feeling sorry about something that has already happened:

It’s no use crying over spilled milk – he’s spent all the money, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This makes more sense.


Why Did the Saying Touch Me Personally?

This is hard to admit and maybe I should make a post about this, but this is one lesson that is hardest for me to learn. While, yes, there are just some things that someone cannot get over easily — and honestly shouldn’t be asked to “get over” — there may very well be things a person can control. Namely, the reaction to what just happened can be controlled.

And that’s what gets me sometimes. I think I’m focusing too much on things, like insults hurled my way and unjust actions by others — and I am, in a way — but the truth is that I might be beating myself up more because I don’t like how I initially responded. What makes it worse is that someone else can tell me to move on, but I feel like I’m being patronized and that my feelings about something are being trivialized.

Now, when I think about some of the stupid shit that was said to me over the years, I realized that my first reaction was apt given the situation, although I felt helpless. There were things beyond my control. Other times, I realized that some who wronged me have moved on. It doesn’t seem fair, but the plus side is that they won’t hold my reaction over my head. That’s the difference between a jerk and a bully. And there were even more times where I was pleased with my reaction. The experience may have been unpleasant but in those situations I said the right thing, held my ground, and/or avoided disaster.

It ties into forgiveness, personal redemption, and progress. There are too many people who refuse to move forward and I am one of them in certain respects. I need to tell myself:

“Have you been discriminated against? Did someone say something to you that you didn’t like? Have you been put at a disadvantage? Don’t let those things hold you back. Think about what you can do NOW to get to where you need to go. If you need help, that’s fine. Just don’t be afraid to ask the right people or to find available resources. Most importantly, keep trying.”

This message can help others, too.


Works Cited

“Additional Proverbs: Paroimiographia Proverbs, or, Old sayed savves & adages in English (or the Saxon toung), Italian, French, and Spanish, whereunto the British for their great antiquity and weight are added …” Old English Books Online: a division of the Digital Library Production Service. University of Michigan. Web. 22 Apr 2016. <http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A44738.0001.001/1:35.7?rgn=div2;submit=Go;subview=detail;type=simple;view=fulltext;q1=No+weeping+for+shed+milk>.

“Banking Under Difficulties: Or, Life on the Goldfields of Victoria, New South Wales & New Zealand (Preview)” Google Books. Alphabet, Inc. Web. Retrieved 22 Apr 2016. <https://books.google.com/books?id=FDoQAAAAYAAJ&q>.

“Cry Over Spilt Milk.” Know Your Phrase. Web. Retrieved 22 Apr 2016. <http://www.knowyourphrase.com/phrase-meanings/Cry-Over-Spilt-Milk.html>.

Howell, James. Paramoigraphy (Proverbs). 1659. Print.

“New Zealand: Chapter XXI.” Banking under difficulties, or, Life on the goldfields of Victoria, New South Wales & New Zealand. Digital Resource Viewer: National Library of Australia. Web. Retrieved 23 Apr 2016. <http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/232151>.

Preshaw, G. O. (George Ogilvy). Banking under difficulties, or, Life on the goldfields of Victoria, New South Wales & New Zealand. Edwards, Dunlop & Co, Melbourne [Vic.], 1888. Print.

“Paroimiographia Proverbs, or, Old sayed savves & adages in English (or the Saxon toung), Italian, French, and Spanish, whereunto the British for their great antiquity and weight are added … / collected by J.H., Esqr.” Old English Books Online: a division of the Digital Library Production Service. University of Michigan. Web. 22 Apr 2016. <http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A44738.0001.001>.

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2 thoughts on “Famous Sayings: #7 — ‘Crying Over Spilt Milk’

  1. You have created a fantastic post. Both the writing and research brought many fine points to bear. It’s not always easy to let emotional hurts fall by the wayside. Sometimes, we cry over them much too long.

    Perhaps your post will encourage readers carrying such burdens to give themselves a spilt milk break. Sloshing around (sometimes for years and years) only curdles our lives and creates a soppy mess. With inspiration such as you’ve produced here, and our willingness to stop the madness, we can set ourselves free. Peace Be Still.

    Liked by 1 person

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