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What Does it Mean to "Stay the Course"?

An idiom is a turn of phrase that doesn't make sense when literally translated.
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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2014
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Stay the course is an idiom of the English language that means to persevere in the face of difficulty when the desired outcome is determined to be worth obstacles met along the way. This saying can be prescriptive, as a form of advice coming from another, or it can be a type of self affirmation, such as, “I must stay the course in order to succeed.” Most people know that life is tainted with hard times, and in order to survive, one must deal with the obstacles that life brings. In that way, this is a positive concept that everyone can relate to at some time in their life.

Many parents know all too well what it means to stay the course. They know that it is much easier to say "yes" to a child than to say "no." While "no" may be in the best interest of the child, it is likely to be met with tantrums, pouts, and pleas. Most parents self affirm that they must be consistent, whether they win in the end or give in to the battle.

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In the 1980s, the American Republican Party, namely the Regan administration, used the phrase stay the course to boost the morale of the American public during the country’s economic difficulties. In 2000, the Bush administration adopted this rhetoric to justify the United States’ long debated presence in Iraq. President Bush stated, "We're not going to lose in Iraq. As a matter of fact, we will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course.” Later, the administration abandoned the plan after much debate about whether staying would be fruitful.

The phrase most likely originated with sailors who had to endure harsh weather conditions at sea. Having a set navigational system, they must have thought it best to stay the course rather than to get lost at sea when they could not clearly see where they where headed and when it might have been difficult to maneuver the ship in inclement conditions. To stay on course, no matter how difficult, would allow them to safely reach their destination.

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