Don’t cry over spilt milk: An idiom for many languages

samfloy~25 January 2020 /Random

A discussion in my Danish class this week led to an interesting observation: several (European) languages have the expression: it’s no use crying over spilt milk.

We were asked to explain what the phrase “græd ikke over spilt mælk” might mean. The teacher-directed the question to an Italian lady in our class who couldn’t explain it in English, but instinctively could say “non piangere sul latte versato”.

A Brazilian lady piped up and said that in Portuguese, they too used that saying (“não adianta chorar pelo leite derramado”) for when there is no use in being upset over situations that have already happened and cannot be changed.

It’s unclear whether the phrase has the same root, or has been independently created in each separate language.

I did some searching on the expression in other parts of the world and nothing so directly came up.

For example, in Hindi the expression “jo hua uske liye mat roa” translates to “don’t cry for what happened”. Same intention, but without reference to dairy.

In Swahili (spoken in East Africa), it seems that the equivalent phrase relates to water, rather than milk “Maji yakimwagika hayazoleki” = “If water has been spilt, it cannot be scooped up”.

Maybe the phrase sticks in places where there has traditionally been a lot of cows/ milk production (which would discount, for example, a lot of South East Asia).

Either way, there are some that still feel particular to Denmark. 

For example, before leaving the class in Copenhagen we were warned to check whether “hvis det blæser en halv pelican”. i.e. it’s very windy.

Literally: “if it blows half a pelican”


In other news…

Project Danish Admin is almost over, save for getting a bank account. 

It’s been a reminder of how comparatively easy it has become to do financial services in England, whereby one can set up accounts, cards and joint accounts all through an app.

In Copenhagen, I’ve been refused a personal account several times on the basis that I “don’t really need one, do you” (the bank teller told me, as I don’t have an employment contract) and upon trying to set up a business account, had to go in for an interview to legitimise how I was going to run the business.

Contrast this with services like Transferwise and Revolut, and I’ve been able to set up everything remotely in a few clicks and an online form.

Anyway, at some point soon I hope to be able to get access, but for now: mega faff.


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