When the going gets tough, the tough get going

When the going gets tough, the tough get going is a proverb that is a little over 50 years old. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that may be a famous quote, an inspirational quote, an epigram, or the topic of a parable. These common sayings are language tools or figures of speech that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself because these common phrases and popular sayings are so well known. Certain phrases may be a metaphor or a quotation; but if it is a proverb, it is often-used and has a figurative meaning. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; don’t cry over spilt milk; actions speak louder than words; haste makes waste, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the proverb when the going gets tough, the tough get going, where the expression came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going means when faced with adversity, strong people rise to the occasion. In other words, people who have a strong resolve will tackle difficult problems. The expression when the going gets tough, the tough get going came into use in the 1950s; the sentiment was first delivered as a motivational phrase in American football locker rooms. Texas football coach, John Thomas, is the first credited with using the phrase, though California football coach Francis William Leahy is credited with using the term around the same time. Today, the phrase when the going gets tough, the tough get going is used as a motivational proverb in everyday speech; it is heavily quoted in business circles.


“When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I would say that is our travel industry in Canada and around the world over the last 18 months,” ACTA’s Wendy Paradis said in a morning session. (Travel Market Report)

If the saying ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ rings true, then Kia UK is made of very stern stuff indeed. (Fleet News)

“There is a saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ and tonight’s Volunteer of the Year is definitely the epitome of that statement,” Knowlton said. (Chronicle of the Horse)

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