Figures of speech

Figures of speech are interesting. Sometimes they illuminate, sometimes they amuse, and sometimes they lead us astray. Far far astray – up the creek, down the steep mountainside, into the brambles.

If you do a bad thing, and you never take it back or apologize for it, and it does spreading harm for a period of years…and then someone asks you about it, the correct answer is not “that’s water under the bridge.” It’s not water under the bridge. There are reasons for that.

“Water under the bridge” is the right expression for something that’s over. It’s not the right expression for something that did damage that was never repaired; it’s even less the right expression for something that did damage that was never repaired and that is still happening. Like, if you make and sell a toxic food product, and that product is still on the market and still toxic, and someone asks you about it, you don’t get to say it’s water under the bridge.

The mere fact that something started a long time ago does not mean it’s now water under the bridge. The mere fact that you, the initiator of the something, are tired of it, does not mean that it’s water under the bridge.

Now if you have a quarrel with a friend, and then the two of you talk and it gets resolved, that becomes water under the bridge. If a third party asks about it you can say it’s water under the bridge. That’s fine. It’s resolved, it’s over, it’s in the past. But if the step with talking and resolving never happened, then it’s not water under the god damn bridge. It’s still dirty smelly water right there in everyone’s face.


  1. Janice Foster says

    But why should a big and important man like Dawkins apologize to a mere WOMAN? Women aren’t people, silly. They’re not worthy of apologies or empathy.

  2. says

    See also:

    * George Bush saying “We’ve moved on”

    * The catholic church “asked for forgiveness from god” instead of turning over names to the police

    * Japan saying “The war is over” when the “comfort women” seek apologies and reparations

  3. says

    Quite. The people responsible for the industrial not-schools and the Magdalene laundries tried very hard to convince everyone it was water under the bridge. The latter still are, with much success.

  4. screechymonkey says

    I wasn’t a big fan of the series Ally McBeal, but I always got a laugh out of the character of Richard Fish. Whenever someone would bring up some obnoxious thing he had said or done — as recently as a couple of minutes ago — he would shrug and declare “Bygones!” It was a perfect caricature of a certain type of person who really does think that as long as he has “moved on” from an issue, that everyone else should, too.

  5. Pliny the in Between says

    Thanks for posting this. It can never be over-emphasized. So much prejudice is embedded into our language that we lose tract of how pervasive it really is. I remember years ago learning that the term ‘rule of thumb’, was in reference to an English common law ‘reform’ suggesting that one’s wife should not be beaten with a rod of greater girth than one’s thumb.

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