water under the bridge

[waw-ter uhn-der th uh brij]

What does water under the bridge mean?

Water under the bridge refers to past events, especially fights or disagreement, that are forgiven, forgotten, or otherwise no longer considered important.

Examples of water under the bridge

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Examples of water under the bridge
water under the bridge >~< just cuz i'm tired of dramz
@aethersynth, April, 2018
Why bother with this old stuff, I wondered. What purpose could there be in dredging up my less-than-noble behaviors toward others, let alone having to contact those people? Couldn’t I just let it be water under the bridge and start fresh?
Phillip Z., A Skeptic's Guide to the 12 Steps, 1990
It's a routine so played out it's practically protocol: A website announces changes (or, in some cases, just makes the changes without warning), users and readers hem and haw about everything they dislike about the ‘upgrade’ and, eventually, they get used to it and it's all water under the bridge.
Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic, November, 2011

Where does water under the bridge come from?

The idiom water under the bridge comes from the image of a stream flowing under a bridge—the water that flows under the bridge will never return just as a bad experience has passed for good.

While time has long been likened to running water, the saying water under the bridge dates back to the 19th century. One early instance comes from Irish novelist Julia Kavanagh’s 1858 novel Adèle, and the context implies the expression was used in speech well prior: “Ah! water has flowed under the bridge, as people say, since those days.” We can find a similar proverb in French, dated to the 1840s: “il passera bien de l’eau sous le pont,” or “much water will pass under the bridge.” Other less common variations include water over the dam, water under the dyke, and water under the mill.

In November, 2015, UK recording artist Adele (no relation to the novel) released her album 25, which included a song titled “Water Under the Bridge.” The single for the song was released in November, 2016 and peaked at #26 on the Billboard charts in February, 2017. Google searches for the phrase water under the bridge spiked in both December, 2015 and February, 2017, coinciding with the song’s popularity.

Who uses water under the bridge?

Today, when not referencing Adele’s popular single, water under the bridge is frequently used in colloquial speech and writing to refer to a feud, disagreement, or breakdown in a romantic relationship that the author (or character if in fiction) has moved on from.

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