The history behind the idiom

Water under the bridge.

Generally 'water under the bridge' refers to the problems that someone has had in the past that they do not worry about because they happened a long time ago and cannot now be changed.

Let bygone be bygone

Although the point of this post is to understand the use of the idiom ‘water under the bridge’ I thought it was interesting to start with other one related: ‘Let bygone be bygone’. This one is used to tell someone that they should forget about unpleasant things that happened in the past, and especially to forgive and forget something bad that someone has done to them. So next time you are trying to reconcile some friends just say ‘Just let bygones be bygones and be friends again”. 

Water under the bridge?

There is a reference here to the one-directional flow of water and when it passes under a bridge, it does not pass back ever again. Yes, we did have our disagreements but that’s water under the bridge now. 

Although originally the sentence meant to leave things in the past, the idiom has evolved to be used also in present or future situations. In this cases, the matter needs more time before giving a closure to it. Examples:

  • “There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge, but that’s our aim with him.”
  • “We’ve got a bit of water to go under the bridge, we’ve got to see the question, we’re going to have an informed debate I hope on the issues, but absolutely on principle, we support referendums and their outcomes.”
  • “… horses will still be looking at two or three runs between now and March so there will be a lot of water under the bridge come Gold Cup day.”
  • “There will be a lot of water under the bridge by the time SpongeBob reaches Chicago, let alone New York, but something is bubbling up and it …”


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