‘Let bygones be bygones’ – Origin, Meaning, Expansion and Importance

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‘Let bygones be bygones’ – Origin, Meaning, Expansion and Importance

Origin of the proverb.

This proverb ‘let bygones be bygones’ first appeared in print in 1562 in a collection of proverbs compiled by the British author John Heywood.

However, as Heywood himself noted, the proverbs in his book were already in existence in oral culture: Heywood was merely noting down proverbs and sayings that people had been saying to each other informally for decades or for centuries.

Meaning of the proverb.

A ‘bygone’ is something that happened in the past. So, ‘let bygones be bygones’ means: ‘let what happened in the past stay in the past‘.

Of course, things that happened in the past do, in a sense, always stay in the past. However, they can often continue to affect people in the present, causing anxiety, sadness, or confusion.

Thus, this proverb is more of an exhortation to a certain attitude about life. ‘Let bygones be bygones’ is about encouraging people to let the past go in their minds too and to acknowledge that the past remains in the past. So, in sum, this proverb signifies that:

  • We should not do not drag up past arguments and other problems.
  • We should acknowledge that past events remain in the past.
  • We should forgive and let go of the past.
  • Resentment and anger for past events are self-destructive mental patterns and it is in one’s own interest to get rid of negative thoughts. 

Expansion of the idea.

The idea behind the proverb is not letting the past arguments ruin our lives in the present. Painful events should not be remembered too often.

Learning to forgive is crucial to a successful marriage or relationship. Not letting past hurts rule our lives in the present helps us to live in peace with our families.

We should release the mental patterns for anger, hatred, resentment for the events that occurred in the past.

We should forgive everyone for what happened in the past. This will help us to lift our emotional body and hence we will be able to enjoy the present moments. 

This proverb is sometimes described as being tautologous: i.e. repeating the same idea twice. This is because bygones already are bygones: asking people to let bygones be bygones seems to be asking them to do something that is going to happen anyway!

The proverb is about ‘something that has gone by’. More strictly, the word ‘bygone’ is used to refer to something that has definitely finished or passed us by. For example, when we refer to ‘a bygone age’, we are referring to a period of history that is over.

Proverbs with similar meaning.

Many proverbs are about moving on from arguments. One analogous proverb is ‘forgive and forget’. This proverb means, forgive people who have hurt us, then forget the incident. This meaning is very similar to the meaning of let bygones be bygones.

There are several other popular sayings very similar to this proverb. One is the saying, ‘what’s done is done’. Another is the proverb, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ which means ‘do not reawaken past emotions or events that ought best to be left in the past’. When awoken, a sleeping dog can be a little cranky!

Importance of this proverb.

1. Resolving conflict: When we have argued with someone, sometimes the key to making peace with them is in allowing our feelings of hurt or anger to remain in the past.

2. A sense of freedom: Letting go of the past enables us to feel free in the present and future.

3. Removing negative thoughts: Often our negative thoughts and anxieties have roots in things that happened long ago. Letting bygones be bygones can rid this negativity from our minds for good.

4. Saving friendships: Agreeing to ‘let bygones be bygones’ with a friend with whom one has argued is sometimes crucial to saving a friendship.

5. Forgiveness: We have all heard of the phrase ‘forgive and forget’. How can we truly forgive someone unless we leave their wrong doing in the past and focus on the present?

6. Appreciating the present moment: How can we enjoy the present if we are being ruled by the past? Once we free ourselves from negativity in the past, we are able to live in the present moment more, and appreciate new things that are happening in our lives.

7. Planning for the future: How can we make great plans for our future without freeing ourselves of the past? We have a bright future ahead of us once we are no longer in thrall to the past.


The idea of letting bygones be bygones helps us to rid our lives of negativity and to focus on making the present and future even better than the past.


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