Stay the course

Stay the course

"Stay the course" is a phrase used in the context of a war or battle meaning to pursue a goal regardless of any obstacles or criticism. The modern usage of this term was popularized by United States presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Bush originally used the phrase to describe the Iraq War, but has since abandoned the phrase due to continual pressure to change his Iraq War strategy.cite news | url= | title= Bush Drops 'Stay The Course' Phrase | date=October 24, 2006 | publisher= CBS]



Similar to "cut and run", a pejorative phrase used to describe cowardly withdrawal from battle, "stay the course" allegedly originated as a nautical metaphor on maintaining a constant, unaltering course while navigating. For instance, in a 2003 column, William Safire asked his readers what they knew of its origins, saying it "appears to be rooted in a nautical metaphor." [cite news|url=|title='Exit strategy': a useful phrase when thinking is uncomfortable|author=William Safire|publisher=The New York Times News Service|date=December 14 2003|accessdate=2007-02-19] . Citations from the late 19th century, however, show the phrase describing horses having the stamina to remain on the course of a racetrack.cite web | url= | title= Issue of June 7, 2004 | date=June 7, 2004 | publisher= The Word Detective|accessdate=2007-02-19] [cite web|url=|title=stay (v.)|first=Douglas|last=Harper|publisher=Online Etymology Dictionary|accessdate=2007-02-19] Safire found the same, writing that the earliest such use found was for an 1873 rowing competition.cite news|url=|title=Janus strikes again -- two hot phrases that look both ways|author=William Safire|date=January 11 2004|accessdate=2007-02-19] Safire's correspondent, lexicographer Ben Zimmer, [cite web|url=|title=Benjamin Zimmer|publisher=University of Pennsylvania|accessdate=2007-02-19] pointed out that before that, "citations for stay the course invariably have the countervailing sense of 'to stop or check the course (of something).'" Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe used it in that sense in "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" in 1588.

The phrase has had fitful use in American politics. It was used by several figures during the Vietnam War, including Gen. William Westmoreland, who wrote in his 1976 autobiography "A Soldier Reports" that "a lack of determination to stay the course...demonstrated in Cambodia, South Vietnam, and Laos that the alternative to victory was defeat."cite news |title=The Failure of Empire |author=The Editors |journal=Monthly Review |year=2005 |month=January |accessdate=2007-02-20] It had been invoked during wartime by President Lyndon Johnson in a 1967 speech [cite news |url= |title= Bush's Words on Iraq Echo LBJ in 1967 |publisher=The Associated Press |date=September 22 2005 |accessdate=2007-02-20'"America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated," Johnson told the Tennessee Legislature on March 15, 1967. Despite the obstacles to victory, the president said, "We shall stay the course."'] and by Johnson's Undersecretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes.

The phrase gained a central place in rhetoric due to the publication by journalist Stewart Alsop in his 1973 memoirs of a conversation with Winston Churchill. Alsop related that the British Prime Minister had pondered at the close of World War II, "America, it is a great and strong country, like a workhorse pulling the rest of the world out of despond and despair. But will it stay the course?" The anecdote became a favorite of Democratic hawk Sen. Henry Jackson, and was retold by Secretary of Defense William Cohen more than once during his tenure. [cite web |url= |title=110th Landon Lecture |author=William Cohen |date=September 12 1997 |accessdate=2007-02-20]

"Stay the course" was later popularized by Ronald Reagan while campaigning for Republicans during the 1982 mid-term elections, arguing against changes in his economic policies. According to the "Washington Post", Reagan used the "stay the course" phrase while on a ten-day political campaign through fourteen states.cite web |url= |title= Stay the course | accessdate=2007-02-15 ] and it was included in his 1982 budget message, [cite web|url=|title=Message to the Congress Transmitting the Fiscal Year 1983 Budget|author=Ronald Reagan|date=February 8, 1982|accessdate=2007-02-19] where he sought to allay fears that his policies were causing a recession. [cite news|url=,9171,925260,00.html|title="No Time to Retreat"|author=George J. Church|publisher=TIME Magazine|date=February 15, 1982|accessdate=2007-02-19] He continued using it as a slogan through the November election. [cite news|url=,9171,923035,00.html|title=A Hot Time on the Hustings|author=Walter Isaacson|publisher=TIME Magazine|date=November 1, 1982|accessdate=2007-02-19]

George W. Bush

The phrase was first used by Bush in July 2003 while in Gaborone, Botswana, after a meeting with President Festus Gontebanye Mogae to discuss the War on Terrorism.cite news |last=Vinall |first=Cassie | url= | title= U.S. 'Will Stay the Course' in Iraq, Bush Says | date=July 10, 2003 | publisher= DefenseLINK] Bush, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, continually used the term afterwards to describe the Iraq War, stressing that the freedoms of the Iraqi people were at stake and that al-Qaeda would "use Iraq as an example of defeating freedom and democracy" if the United States were to withdraw.cite news | url= | title= Bush: Stay the course on terror war | date=May 6, 2004 | publisher= CNN]

However, the phrase was eventually dropped by Bush two weeks before the 2006 U.S. midterm elections,cite news | url= | title= Bush Drops 'Stay The Course' Phrase | date=October 24, 2006 | publisher= CBS] due to continual pressure to change his Iraq War strategy. Tony Snow has stated that this only meant that the United States needed to adjust its strategy in Iraq, and that it was not a sign of any major changes in policy. On the other hand, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News's "This Week", Bush stated that "we've never been stay the course", in response to a question asking him about his thoughts on James Baker’s comments that the strategy in Iraq should be "between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run'."cite news | url= | title= ABC's This Week | date=October, 2006 | publisher= ABC]

Popular culture

The phrase has been repeatedly parodied by political cartoonists,cite web |url= |title= Archive of "Stay the course" editorial cartoons by various artists |accessdate=2007-02-15] ranging from animator Mark Fiorecite web |url= |title= Stay-the-Course Man | accessdate=2007-02-15 |format=Macromedia Flash] to Chip Bok of the "Akron Beacon Journal". It has also been parodied by numerous television shows, such as the "The Colbert Report"cite web |url= |title= Colbert Report: Stay the Course | accessdate=2007-02-15 |format=Video clip] and "Saturday Night Live".cite web |url= |title= NBC Transcript | accessdate=2007-02-15 ] The phrase was also used in Pixar's 2008 movie Wall-E in a message to Axiom from the CEO of Earth.

Notes and references

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  • stay the course — see under ↑stay1 • • • Main Entry: ↑course stay the course To endure to the end of the race or other trial of one s stamina and staying power • • • Main Entry: ↑stay * * * stay the course phrase to continue doing something despite difficulties …   Useful english dictionary

  • stay the course — If you stay the course, you continue to do something no matter how difficult it is …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • stay the course — ► stay the course (or distance) 1) keep going to the end of a race or contest. 2) pursue a difficult task or activity to the end. Main Entry: ↑stay …   English terms dictionary

  • stay the course — to continue doing something, even when it is difficult. I will stay the course and finish the job I was hired to do. Etymology: based on the literal meaning of a ship continuing in the same direction, even in bad conditions …   New idioms dictionary

  • stay the course — verb To persist or continue. If you decide to stay the course and finish engineering school, it will mean long hours and sleepless nights …   Wiktionary

  • stay the course — to continue doing something despite difficulties Voters thought McMiller should stay the course and finish his term …   English dictionary

  • stay the course (or distance) — keep going to the end of a race or contest. ↘pursue a difficult task or activity to the end. → stay …   English new terms dictionary

  • stay the distance — ► stay the course (or distance) 1) keep going to the end of a race or contest. 2) pursue a difficult task or activity to the end. Main Entry: ↑stay …   English terms dictionary

  • stay — stay1 [stā] n. [ME staie < OE stæg, akin to Du stag < IE * stāk , to stand, place < base * sta : see STAND] a heavy rope or cable, usually of wire, used as a brace or support, as for a mast of a ship; guy vt. to brace or support with a… …   English World dictionary

  • stay — Ⅰ. stay [1] ► VERB 1) remain in the same place. 2) remain in a specified state or position. 3) live somewhere temporarily as a visitor or guest. 4) Scottish & S. African live permanently. 5) stop, delay, or prevent. 6) …   English terms dictionary

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