When the going gets tough, the tough get going
What's the meaning of the phrase 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'?
'When the going gets tough, the tough get going' means that, when times are difficult, those with resolve don't give up but are stimulated into action.
What's the origin of the phrase 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'?
As might be expected the inspirational motto 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going' originated as a coaching mantra in American Football circles. It joins other similar motivational phrases that use wordplay for effect - 'Failing to plan is planning to fail' and 'Better to die on your feet than live on your knees', etc.
The first example that I can find of it in print comes from the Texas newspaper The Corpus Christi Caller Times, September 1953, which reports on a speech made by John Thomas, the coach of the Green Hornets football team:
John Thomas, who has been coaching the Green Hornets for 17 years, tore down the house as he mixed philosophy with wit, in as fine a speech as the Quarterbacks will hear all year.
The article then lists several uplifting slogans that Thomas had coined to encourage the team, finishing with:
As Thomas said: "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going."
Given the context it is plausible that Thomas coined the slogan himself.
The phrase is found in US newspapers throughout the 1950s, mostly with reference to sports. By the 1980s it had become common enough in the wider community to spawn the parody version 'When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping', as here in this advice to teenagers from Len Albin, writing in Seventeen Magazine, December 1980:
Take in an upbeat movie, get a change of scenery, find a new hobby to occupy your attention, or follow the popular adage, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."
More recently there are as many jokey variants on the original as there are rhymes for going - 'get sewing', 'go rowing' and so on...