Water Under the Bridge: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 6, 2023

The phrase "water under the bridge" refers to past events that are no longer significant or troubling. It is a metaphor for the process of moving on from past conflicts, disagreements, or mistakes, suggesting that one should focus on the present and future rather than dwell on the past.

In short:

"Water under the bridge" refers to past issues, disagreements, or mistakes that have been resolved, forgiven, or forgotten.

What Does "Water Under the Bridge" Mean?

The phrase emphasizes the idea that the past should stay in the past, and one should focus on the present and future.

For example, if you and a friend had a fight but have since made up, you might say:

"Let's put that water under the bridge."

This means that you are ready to forget about the fight and move on with your friendship.

Let's delve into its core meanings and usage:

  • It signifies forgiving or forgetting past issues or conflicts.
  • It carries with it a sense of acceptance, resolution, and moving forward.
  • It is often used in the context of interpersonal relationships or personal histories.
  • It encourages focusing on the present and future rather than dwelling on the past.

Where Does "Water Under the Bridge" Come From?

This phrase likely originated from the simple observation of water flowing under a bridge, moving forward and not returning. This concept is a natural metaphor for time and events passing and becoming irretrievable, much like the water that has flowed under a bridge can't be brought back.

Historical Example

"Time after time the best intentions have fallen fruitless, the very highest statesmanship has been brought to bear upon the problem, but it has all passed like water under the bridge."

- Parliamentary Debates, 1920

10 Examples of "Water Under the Bridge" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • Our disagreement is now water under the bridge, and we've moved forward in our friendship.
  • Seeing you've moved on makes our past disagreements feel like water under the bridge; how about you?
  • The business deal that fell through last year is just water under the bridge.
  • The incident is water under the bridge now, so let's just let it be.
  • After an honest conversation, they decided their past argument was just water under the bridge.
  • Now that our conflict is water under the bridge, I hope all goes well for you in the future.
  • We've already considered our argument water under the bridge. There's no need to rub it in.
  • Let's make all the past grievances water under the bridge and start afresh.
  • To each his own, but I think we should just call it water under the bridge.
  • He regarded the previous failures in his career as water under the bridge.

Examples of "Water Under the Bridge" in Pop Culture

The phrase "water under the bridge" often appears in media related to personal stories, song lyrics, and films, often to express the act of moving on from past events.

Let's look at some examples:

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a song by English singer Adele from her third studio album, 25 (2015). The song is about an ended relationship and the singer's struggle to move on.
  • Water Under the Bridge (2003) is a drama film about Jake O'Connor, who returns to his hometown 17 years after his best friend Marco was killed.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Water Under the Bridge"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "water under the bridge."

Some of these include:

  • Let bygones be bygones
  • Forgive and forget
  • Move on from the past
  • Put it behind you
  • It's in the past

You can use these alternatives interchangeably depending on the context and the specific circumstances of the past events being referenced.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Water Under the Bridge":

  • What does "water under the bridge" mean?

"Water under the bridge" refers to past events that have been resolved, forgotten, or no longer considered significant or problematic.

  • How can I use "water under the bridge" in a sentence?

You can use "water under the bridge" to convey that past issues or conflicts have been resolved or should be forgotten. For instance, "Our disagreement is now water under the bridge, let's move forward."

  • Where does the idiom "water under the bridge" come from?

The phrase likely originated from the observation of water flowing under a bridge, symbolizing the passing of time and the idea that past events are irretrievable.

  • Does the phrase have any negative connotations?

No, "water under the bridge" typically implies resolution, acceptance, and the act of moving on. It's generally seen as a positive or neutral expression.

  • Can one use it in a professional context?

Yes, it can be used in a professional context to indicate that past issues or disagreements are no longer relevant or have been resolved.

  • Is "water under the bridge" used only in English-speaking countries?

The phrase is common in English-speaking countries, but similar phrases exist in other languages, conveying the same concept of forgetting or moving on from the past.

  • Can one use it in formal writing?

While the phrase is more common in spoken language and informal writing, it can be used in formal writing depending on the context and tone of the piece.

  • Does the phrase always suggest forgiveness?

Not necessarily. While it often implies forgiveness, it can also suggest forgetting or simply moving past an event without necessarily implying forgiveness.

  • Is the phrase only applicable in personal contexts?

While commonly used in personal contexts, it can also be used in a variety of situations, such as politics, business, and social issues to indicate moving on from past events or issues.

  • Is there a direct opposite of the phrase "water under the bridge"?

There's no direct opposite, but phrases like "holding a grudge," "can't let it go," or "living in the past" convey an unwillingness to move on from past events, which contrasts with the meaning of "water under the bridge."

Final Thoughts About "Water Under the Bridge"

The idiom "water under the bridge" refers to past events that have been resolved, forgiven, or are no longer significant or problematic.

  • It refers to an event or conflict from the past that is no longer relevant or impactful.
  • The phrase likely comes from the observation of water flowing under a bridge, symbolizing the passing of time and the irretrievability of past events.
  • It is applicable in various contexts and situations, reflecting its flexibility and universal appeal.

When someone says it's "water under the bridge," you know it's time to move forward and focus on the present and the future.

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