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Per ardua ad astra

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 12, 2006

In Reply to: Per ardua ad astra posted by Lewis on June 12, 2006

: : : : Does anyone know who coined the phrase "onward and upward" and when it first came in to use?

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: : : ONWARD AND UPWARD We must continue to advance, to improve. The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985) credits The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell for this phrase.
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: : : James Russell Lowell. 1819 C1891
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: : : 128. The Present Crisis
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: : : New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
: : : They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
: : : Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
: : : Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
: : : Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.

: : : The whole poem is online at, 2006.

: : As a boy growing up in New York State, I was told that the state motto, Excelsior, meant Onward and upward. It probably only means Upward, but I'm happy to think the other.
: : SS
: : SS

: the RAF motto "per ardua ad astra" - "through hard-work to the stars" is a mite more realistic than 'onwards and upwards'. I'm not convinced that "Excelsior" means 'upward' - I think it was just an advert for the Hotel group...

: L

I don't know any earlier use of "onward and upward" than that of Lowell. But to satisfy my curiosity I looked up "excelsior." Here's what I found in the OED: " ║1. a. The Latin motto ('higher') on the seal of the State of New York (adopted by the senate of that state 16 Mar. 1778), the accompanying device being a rising sun. Hence attrib. in The Excelsior State, New York. b. Used by Longfellow (quasi-int. as an expression of incessant aspiration after higher attainment) as the refrain of a popular poem; hence employed with similar sense by many later writers. Also as n. and attrib.
The adverbial meaning (= 'upwards') commonly given to the motto cannot be justified by L. grammar. According to S. Longfellow Life H. W. Longfellow I. 384, the poet was at first unaware of the solecism in the motto as thus interpreted, and when it was pointed out to him suggested that the word might be taken to stand for Scopus meus excelsior est, 'My goal is higher.' It is not clear whether the original use on the seal is a blunder, or whether it was meant as an abbreviation for some grammatically admissible phrase."
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