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PERSEVERANCE
( Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary )

1. bloody but unbowed: Beaten but not subdued; defeated but unyielding; proud in adversity. This expression can be traced directly to William E. Henley, who penned the term while a patient in a tuberculosis hospital:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
("Invictus", 1888)
Originally intended in a serious vein, the phrase has become so overworked that today it is generally employed in a jocular sense.

2. come hell or high water: Come what may, no matter what; also " in spite of hell or high water." P. I. Wellman in "Trampling Herd" (1939) claims the following as the origin of the expression:
``In spite of hell and high water'' ... is a legacy of the cattle trail when the cowboys drove their hornspiked masses of longhorns through high water at every river and continuous hell between.
Whether originally a cowboy expression or not, "hell" and "high water" symbolize any difficulties or obstacles to be overcome. The expression has been in use since at least 1915.

3. diehard: A hardcore supporter; one who struggles and resists to the bitter end, particularly against change or innovation; literally one who dies hard. This expression reputedly had its origin in the Battle of Albuera (1811) where the 57th Regiment of Foot of the British Army fought desperately to maintain a strategic position. In the midst of the fighting, Colonel Inglis is said to have urged his men on by shouting ``Die hard! 57th, die hard!'' The last-ditch courage and stamina with which the 57th fought that day earned them the nickname the "Diehards, "by which their regiment is known to this day. Use of this term dates from at least 1844.

4. do a Nelson: To withstand great danger; to be undaunted by adversity; to maintain one's courage and resolve; to stand firm. This expression became popular in England during World War II, and, strangely enough, refers to the statue of Lord Nelson which stands in Trafalgar Square rather than to the naval hero himself. The term became almost a catch phrase among the Civil Defense people who served during the `great blitz' of 1940-42. Laurie Atkinson summed up their attitude in a speech on July 1, 1948:
Knowing that whatever may befall, as upon Nelson on his column in Trafalgar Square, one will, like him, ``be there'' tomorrow.

5. dog in a doublet: A bold, determined man. This phrase alludes to the practice in northern Europe during the Middle Ages of protecting boarhounds with a leather jacket buttoned about their bodies. These dogs presented such a resolute appearance in these doublets that they came to symbolize a determined man. They are pictured in many of Peter Paul Rubens' paintings. A variant of this expression is "as proud as a dog in a doublet".
Boswell: I think it is a new thought in a new attitude.
Johnson: It is the old dog in the new doublet. (James Boswell, "Life of Johnson, "1778)
A related expression, "a dog in one's doublet, " is used to signify a false friend.

6. don't give up the ship: Keep fighting or trying, hang in there. Although this expression was not new at the time of the Battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813) when Commodore Perry adopted it as his battle cry, it was he who popularized the words and made them memorable. The expression has extended beyond its naval origins and application and is now currently used to give encouragement to people in all walks of life.

7. hang in there: Don't give up; stick to it; persevere; refuse to give in. This exclamation, used as a phrase of encouragement, is usually addressed to one who is struggling to continue under difficult or adverse circumstances. Although the phrase's origin is unknown, it may come from the world of boxing, where a fighter, who is tiring near the end of the bout is often told to "hang in there", literally meaning that he should go into clinches and hand on his opponent to save his energy. The term soon became a part of the general sports vocabulary and rather quickly after that found its way into everyday use as a general term of encouragement to a friend who is suffering from depression or seems about to surrender in the midst of a difficult endeavor.
The way those tough Bronx mothers wouldn't have quit. The way my mother would have hung in there. ("Playboy", October 1973)

8. hang tough: To persevere; to remain firm in one's resolve; to refuse to give up. This American slang expression dates from about 1970 and probably owes its genesis to the expressions "hang loose" and "hang in there".
Chretien decided to hang tough rather than give in to opposition demands for sweeping cuts in personal income taxes. (Ian Urquhart, clean's, November 27, 1978)
See also hang in there, above; hang loose, COMPOSURE.

9. happy warrior: One who is undaunted or undiscouraged by adversity, a diehard; often used of a politician who is a perennial candidate for nomination or election to high office. The nickname "Happy Warrior "was first applied to Alfred E. Smith, Democratic candidate in the presidential election of 1928.
He [Alfred E. Smith] is the ``Happy Warrior'' of the political battlefield. (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "The New York Times," June 1924)
The term was later applied to Hubert Humphrey, Democratic candidate for President in 1968 and many times a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The term was first used in the conventional sense of an excellent soldier, a fighter -- a meaning which is reflected in its figurative application to political warriors.

10. have scissors to grind: To have ends to attain or ambitions to achieve; to have labor to do or a purpose to serve. Not to be confused with the more common "have an ax to grind", which connotes selfishness, this term deals with one's aspirations and duties in life, and most commonly connotes ``We all have problems in life, and I must get on with solving mine; I don't have time for yours.''

11. hold [one's] ground: To firmly maintain or defend one's position; to resist the pressure to compromise one's ideals. Although this expression can refer to maintaining ground literally, as in a battle, it is more frequently heard in regard to defending a philosophical stance. The two levels of usage are related, however, because even in war there is a philosophical basis for defending one's "ground," meaning `territory, land,' etc. This expression and its variants "keep" or "stand one' s ground" appeared in print by the 17th century.
It is not easy to see how it [Individuality] can stand its ground. (John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty," 1859)

12. keep a stiff upper lip: To keep one's courage when confronted with adversity, to remain resolute in the face of great difficulties, not to lose heart. The allusion is to the quivering of the upper lip when a person is trying to maintain control and keep from crying in the face of danger or great emotional stress.
``What's the use o' boohooin'?? ...
Keep a stiff upper lip; no bones broke -- don't I know??'' (John Neal, "The Down Easters," 1833)
The expression dates from the early part of the 19th century.

13. keep [one's] chin up: To maintain one's courage and resolve, to keep one's spirits up, to keep one's head held high. This American expression has been in use since at least 1938.
Keep your chin up honey. (I. Baird, "Waste Heritage," 1939)

14. keep [one's] nose to the grindstone: To persist in an unpleasant task; to labor continuously, especially at hard, monotonous work; to labor unceasingly; to drudge. The allusion is perhaps to laborers hovering over grindstones or whetstones to sharpen tools made dull from constant use. The expression and variants, which date from at least 1532, originally meant to oppress someone else by exaction of labor.

15. keep [one's] pecker up: To "keep one's chin up, "to hold one' s head high, to keep one's spirits or courage up. In this British slang expression "pecker" means `spirits, courage.' It probably derives from the term "pecker" for a bird's beak or bill. Cockfighting is sometimes cited as the source of the phrase, since a gamecock's pecker or beak sinks when he is tired and near defeat. Thus, the expression literally means to keep up one's beak (British slang for "nose"). This of course cannot be done without keeping the head and chin up as well. The expression, which dates from at least 1853, is avoided in the United States, where "pecker" has an altogether different and vulgar slang meaning.

16. nail [one's] colors to the mast: To fight or hold out until the bitter end; to refuse to compromise, concede, or surrender; to persist or remain steadfast, especially in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition. It has long been nautical custom for a ship to signify its nationality or allegiance by flying that country's colors (i.e. , flag) from its tallest mast. In battle, a captain could signal his surrender or defeat by lowering the flag. If the colors were nailed to the mast, however, they could not be lowered, implying that surrender was not possible.
If they catch you at disadvantage, the mines for your life is the word, ... and so we fight them with our colours nailed to the mast. (Sir Walter Scott, "The Pirate," 1821)

17. praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition: Keep up the struggle, don't give up. This expression, although rarely used today, was the title of a popular song during World War II. It has been attributed to Chaplain Howell Forgy, who was on board the cruiser "New Orleans" in Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack in 1941. During the assault the chaplain helped fuel a counterattack by carrying ammunition to the ship's guns. He is purported to have said the now famous words ``Praise the Lord, boys -- and pass the ammunition.''

18. the show must go on: One must persevere; one must be undaunted by adversity; the public must be served. Contrary to popular belief, this expression had its origin in the circus, not in the theater. In case of an emergency, such as a fire, the band was to continue playing, the troupers to continue performing, with the hope that the audience, thus distracted, would not panic. Today, the term is common in theater usage with the sense that in spite of injury or illness a performer should not disappoint the audience nor fail his fellow troupers.
The hotel business is like the theatre. No matter what happens, the show must go on. (R. Holden, "Speak of the Devil", 1941)

19. stick to [one's] guns: To stand firm; to persist in one's point of view, argument, or beliefs; not to yield or give in; to hold one' s ground.
An animated colloquy ensued. Manvers stuck to his guns. (Mrs. Alexander, "Brown, V.C.," 1899)
Of military origin, this phrase was originally "to stand to one's gun(s)," meaning literally to stand by one's gun, to keep fighting no matter what.


Copyright (c) 1985 by Gale Research Inc.

PERSEVERANCE., Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 01-01-1994.


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