“Water Under The Bridge”

It means that a negative experience is in the past and that you have moved on from it. That time since the experience has passed like water under the bridge. This particular idiom sticks out in my mind because of an old Abbott and Costello routine I saw in a movie when I was a kid. The movie was called Hold That Ghost, and I remember enjoying it immensely. Near the end of the movie is when a specific scene takes place, it goes like this…

Chuck (Bud Abbott): Moose said he kept the money in his head.
Ferdie (Lou Costello): You mean like in that thing?
Chuck: What thing?
Ferdie: (pointing to a moose head mounted on the wall) That horse with a hat rack on his head.
Chuck: No, you don’t understand, when I say Moose kept the money in his head that’s just a figure of speech.
Ferdie: Oh, figure of speech.
Chuck: You know what a figure of speech is, don’t you?
Ferdie: Oh yeah, everybody knows that.
Chuck: What is it?
Ferdie: A figure of speech is just like if I said to you, uh, that’s water under the bridge.
Chuck: What bridge?
Ferdie: How would I know what bridge?
Chuck: Then how do you know there’s any water under it?
Ferdie: There’s gotta be water under it, so the boats can go up and down!
Chuck: Up and down? Suppose they want to cross?
Ferdie: I’m a sucker for arguing with this guy.
Chuck: Why do you start these arguments?
Ferdie: You asked me if I knew what a figure of speech was, and I said just like water under the bridge.  I shoulda said gone with the wind.
Camille: What wind?
Ferdie: Am I gonna have trouble with you now?

Ferdie: When I said ‘gone with the wind’ it was a figure of speech’ like, ‘never the twain shall meet.’
Camille: What twain?
Ferdie: The twain on twack twee!

My apologies for all the reading, but I couldn’t locate a recording of it. Anyhow, as I was thinking on the above mentioned scene, I became curious as to where the idiom, “water under the bridge,” came from. After doing some research I found an online forum where this very topic is discussed. One person who posted on the forum, named Peter Shor, said that the earliest use he could find came “from 1920, from a compilation of the U.K. ‘Parliamentary Debates.’” It read, “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.”

Another user on the forum said the following (I tried to capture it as an image as best I could, I thought it might be too tricky to try and quote)…

It seems to me that, in the form we know it today, the saying has been around since at least 1920. However, reality being that most idioms existed verbally before they were ever put to paper, it could very well have been first used much earlier. This possibility is further supported by what the image above reports, that seemingly, a version of the saying was used as early as 1844. I was disappointed when I failed to find anything more conclusive than what I have mentioned here. However, the inconclusive nature of my findings does add to the romance of idioms, and language in general. Therefore, I still consider this a “win.”


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