‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on April 4, 2023

Has someone told you ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’? Are you unsure of what this means? In this article, we’ll talk about the definition and meaning of the phrase, as well as look as some example sentences.

In short:

  • ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ means there’s no sense in worrying over the past because it can’t be changed.

Essentially, it means that whatever’s happened has already happened, and you might as well accept it instead of crying over it.

What Does ‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’ Mean?

‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ means not to get upset over something that’s happened already (and that you can’t change). It’s usually used when someone does something they might be embarrassed about and may feel bad about.

The other person might say:

‘Hey, don’t cry over spilled milk. It’ll be all right.’

Oftentimes, it’s a problem that can easily be fixed. Otherwise, the person wouldn’t be saying:

‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’

You would only use this phrase when the ‘spilled milk’ is something small.

You would not say this to someone who has lost someone close to them because that’s not something small, and that person should feel free to cry because what they’ve lost is a lot more than ‘spilled milk.’

SZA has a song lyric that reads:

‘Promise I won’t cry over spilled milk. Gimme a paper towel, gimme another Valium. Gimme another hour or two, an hour with you.’

She’s implying that she won’t cry over frivolous things. She’ll wipe her tears away and take whatever it is in stride.

Where Does ‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’ Come From?

 The phrase ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ comes from the phrase ‘no weeping for shed milk,’ which was originally published in 1659 in ‘Paramiography,’ a book of proverbs by a Welsh historian named James Howell.

It slowly morphed into something like this:

  • ‘No use fretting over shed milk’
  • ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk.’

It was later used in a book from 1888, which tells the story of a man who’s just been robbed.

Even though he’d just been robbed, his response was:

‘It was no use, however, crying over spilt milk.’

So, why milk? You might be wondering.

Well, in the old days, people used to believe strongly in fairies. And it was pretty common to lay out a shrine for them, which usually consisted of small amounts of food and drink, particularly their favorite drink – milk!

That’s why whenever milk was spilled, it was considered to be nothing more than an offering to the fairies. And therefore, you shouldn’t cry over it because it wasn’t wasted after all.

Today, February 11, is National Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day.

Examples of ‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’ in Sentences 

How would you use ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples: 

  • After my little brother fell down and scraped his knee, my mom told him, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk. You’re not even bleeding, Miguel.’
  • I tripped in front of the whole class yesterday, and I refused to go back to school today. All my Dad said was, ‘Oh, don’t cry over spilled milk. I’m sure everyone’s forgotten about it by now.’ But that’s very doubtful.
  • My auntie hugged me so tight once she realized I wasn’t lost at the park. I told her, jokingly, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk, Auntie. I’m fine.’ She just laughed and hugged me again.
  • Every time I stub my toe, my older brother immediately says, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk, Janine.’ I feel like punching him in the arm as hard as I can.
  • We always say, ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ in my kindergarten class because a lot of the children are really sensitive. So, I’m trying to keep as many kids from crying as possible.
  • Miss Peters always says, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ whenever someone forgets their homework. She’s always so understanding to everyone. No wonder she’s everyone’s favorite teacher on Teacher’s Day.
  • I always tell my son, ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ because he cries over too many things. I don’t want him to be a wuss, but his mom thinks I’m too hard on him. I don’t want to raise a kid who can’t survive in the real world.
  • My friend has a poster in his office that says, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’ It has a picture of a duckling waddling around in a puddle of milk. It’s so cute.

Other Ways to Say ‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’

What other words and phrases convey the same meaning as ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’?

Let’s see some examples:

  • Be sorry about
  • Have qualms about
  • Be remorseful about/for
  • Be ashamed of
  • Have compunctions
  • Bemoan
  • Lament
  • Mourn
  • Regret
  • Repent
  • Complain
  • Grumble
  • Moan
  • Grieve over
  • Sing the blues
  • Sigh over
  • Weep over
  • Express regret about
  • Cry over
  • Express sorrow
  • Shed tears over
  • Wail for
  • Wail over
  • Weep for
  • Keen over
  • Be guilt-ridden
  • Beat one’s breast (about)
  • Repine
  • Deprecate
  • Be unhappy about
  • Be disappointed about
  • Be regretful
  • Feel apologetic about
  • Have a conscience about
  • Show penitence
  • Feel sorry
  • Kick oneself
  • Be contrite about
  • Have compunctions
  • Feel uneasy over
  • Reproach oneself for
  • Be down on yourself
  • Be disturbed by

Final Thoughts on ‘Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ means there’s no sense in worrying over the past because it can’t be changed.

Essentially, it means that whatever’s happened has already happened, and you might as well accept it instead of crying over it.

If you ever get stuck on anything, you can always come back here to review what you learned. We’ve got a whole library of content on idioms that you might find helpful as you’re learning the language. Go check it out anytime you need to.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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