“No use crying over spilt milk” is such an easy phrase to say, yet what does this phrase really communicate?
“Do something more constructive. Like helping me clean up your milk.” I think of my father with that explanation, let’s go with another.
“Don’t worry, there is always more milk.”
This makes sense to me as I have most recently seen the exact circumstance of a child crying over a spilt milk carton at a Wendy’s. But doesn’t this sound like a very bourgeois sayin? Milk is a plentiful resource for the majority of Americans, but I think there is a reason to cry over spit milk if that spillage creates a waste of your resources. Have you read the Grapes of Wrath? I would cry over spilt milk in that scenario.
OK, this is a very literal translation of the phrase, but it also leads me to believe the phrase is relatively recent, say from the American 1950’s.
A quick Googling comes up with the phrase’s origins: earliest known citation comes from Welsh historian James Howell in 1659, “No weeping for shed milk.“
OK, wrong on that guess. I suppose milk was plentiful in Wales back then, but even Howell was writing a collection of proverbs, so the phrase must go back a little further. That’s interesting, let’s push beyond the literal and possibly bourgeois explanation of this phrase then.
“Accept your actions and become more cautious from them.”
Oh gawd, did my father elucidate over all the possible meanings for the spillage of milk?
Besides the fact that a father of someone must be the origin of this phrase, the facts of acceptance and consequences should be explored. The lesson should be one of pattern recognition, correct? If I do A, then B occurs; I do not like B occurring, what are my other options? I think this is getting closer to the point, but I think there’s a significant theme still missing from the explanation.
“The past is gone now, learn to move on from your mistakes.”
That looks a far cry (and much more serious) from “no use crying over spilt milk,” but this feels more encompassing than the others. Here, there’s a sense of what has happened cannot be changed, so let’s evaluate the events and learn to avoid this outcome in the future. This might be learning to control your motor skills better so you quit making a mess of my tablecloth, or it might be to quit letting people walk all over you in a relationship, or to stop expecting results to change when you haven’t made a change in yourself to create this other outcome you desire.
Lessons need to be learned and patterns changed. The important parts might come from a parent’s admonishment, but let the message get through.
The real irony of the sign at the top of this post isn’t that a tattoo is something to regret, but that the some part of you meant for this tattoo to happen and it’s for you to figure out what that was for; was it a rebel thing or an expression that needed to get out of you?
To be honest, I think if you are actually learning the lesson, it’s OK to cry over spilt milk.
Just for a little bit.