Let Bygones Be Bygones – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to tell someone that the worst things are behind you (or that something has been atoned for) and that all the issues related to it can be left in the past? The expression ‘let bygones be bygones’ can be used to describe this. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this common saying.

Meaning

The saying ‘let bygones be bygones’ is a type of figurative saying that can be used to mean an argument has been laid to rest whether this meaning is clear or just being implied in the context of the discussion.

If someone says that ‘bygones should be bygones’ then the implication is being made that an old conflirt or issue should be laid to rest or resolved.

The term is most often used in the full context of the expression, although sometimes the term can also be shortened to just ‘bygones’ with the meaning assumed to be known by everyone party to the discussion.

The expression has received common use in newspapers, magazines and popular culture.

Even though people generally do not break down the meaning of the expression to consider what a ‘bygone’ might be when they say it, ‘bygones’ are assumed to be the issue in question when the expresson is commonly said.

Example Usage

“If you’re going to go to the meeting to make trouble, just don’t bother. It’s better to just let bygones be bygones, forget about the whole thing or discuss it and get it over with.”

“You and your mother should let bygones be bygones, even if she married your other stepfather a second time. You’ve got to have family, don’t you?”

“I’m sure that you guys will let bygones be bygones once you’ve found something that you can agree about.”

“If you guys don’t let bygones be bygones and bury the supposed hatchet, this disagreement is probably going to get bad enough to be the end of the both of you.”

Origin

The first use of the term ‘let bygones be bygones’ is difficult to trace, although it is assumed that the phrase made its first appearance around the 1600s.

The expression ‘let bygones be bygones’ appeared in a letter by Scottish writer Samuel Rutherford for one of its first documented usages, where he was relating [to someone else] the foolishness of his younger days.

The term soon picked up usage thanks to the introduction of the printing press, and the term would later again spike in use thanks to the introduction of the internet (circa 2000s) and social media websites like TikTok (circa 2010s).

The term was recorded in Urban Dictionary from 2005, though the early use of the term is documented long before this.

Phrases Similar to Let Bygones Be Bygones

  • Bury the hatchet

Phrases Opposite to Let Bygones Be Bygones

  • N/a

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Let bygones be bygones
  • Bygones be bygones

Ways People May Say Let Bygones Be Bygones Incorrectly

The saying ‘let bygones be bygones’ can be used in the incorrect way (or misunderstood by the other parties in the conversation) where anyone takes the meaning of ‘bygone’ literally or does not understand its significance.

The term ‘bygone’ is used in a figurative sense, where the ‘bygone’ is used to represent (almost any) issue in question.

The ‘bygone’ is usually assumed, and does not have to be stated as the context of the conversation will make it clear.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Let Bygones Be Bygones

The correct way to use the phrase ‘let bygones be bygones’ is to use the phrase to refer to an issue that should (or that has been) put to rest.

Sometimes the use of the phrase is shortened only to ‘bygones’ with the rest of the meaning treated as assumed by the rest of the conversation.

Use of the term is largely representative, and the ‘bygone’ of the phrase represents the issue in question that is being discussed.

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