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."
The phrase is an example of antimetabole.
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."
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.
It is used in the song "Memo to my son" by Randy Newman, along with a similar figure of speech: A winner never quits, a quitter never wins.
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.
In the episode entitled "The Day the Spores Landed" of The Cosby Show, Theo, Cliff, and Martin all start to have contractions because they are pregnant (see the episode description in the list of episodes,Episode 132). Then Theo yells out, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going!"