When the going gets tough, the tough get going
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going" is a popular proverb.
The phrase is a play on words involving idiomatic (Proverb) and distinct meanings of "go" and "tough." In context, "the going" means "the situation," "gets tough" means "becomes difficult," "the tough" means "people who are strong or enduring," and "get going" means "become fully engaged." Taken together, the meaning of the phrase is "When the situation becomes difficult, the strong will become engaged."
Another interpretation could mean, "Those who act tough and proud will vacate a situation when it becomes difficult lest they be proven not as tough as they appear to be."
Why this phrase is considered to be inspirational is uncertain. Neither possible interpretation encourages one to self-identify with "the tough". The first interpretation of the phrase implies that "the tough" are disengaged and inactive during situations that are typical rather than difficult, which would be inefficient and implies that "the tough" are unintelligent and/or lazy. The second interpretation is clearly unflattering to "the tough".
The origin of the phrase has been attributed both to Joseph P. Kennedy (1888–1969), father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and sometimes to Norwegian-born American football player and coach Knute Rockne (1888–1931).
Use in popular culture
Used several times by Alf (The ALF Tv Series)
It is used in Animal House in famous Bluto's "Big Speech".
It is used in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride by Timon during the battle between the Pridelanders and the Outsiders.
In Season 5, Episode 24 of "Frasier" the second segment is named this. This is where Frasier and Daphne join the protest to save the Hirsch & Sons bookstore.