Onward and Upward: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
May 14, 2023

The idiom "onward and upward" conveys a sense of progress and improvement, often used to inspire and motivate. It has roots in the 19th century and is popular in various contexts, from casual conversations to formal speeches.

In short:

"Onward and upward" is an encouraging expression signaling progress and positive growth.

What Does "Onward and Upward" Mean?

The phrase "onward and upward" is used to communicate continuous improvement, progress, or positive movement forward.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning include:

  • A sense of growth and progress
  • An optimistic outlook on future endeavors
  • Often used as an expression of encouragement or motivation

Where Does "Onward and Upward" Come From?

The exact origin of the phrase "onward and upward" is unclear, but its development can be traced back to several historical figures who used similar expressions in their writings and speeches. In the early 19th century, both Frances Anne Kemble (born in 1809) and Abraham Lincoln (also born in 1809) may have contributed to the emergence of the phrase. Kemble wrote lines that evoked the sentiment of continuous progress, while a speech by Lincoln in 1859 allegedly contained the phrase "onward and upward." James Lowell, born in 1819, also penned a line that conveyed the same spirit.

It is possible that these individuals were influenced by a common saying of their time, which ultimately led to the development of the phrase we know today. Later, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mary Church Terrell and C.S. Lewis both used the phrase in their works, further solidifying its place in the English language.

Historical Example

"A sacred burden is this life ye bear. Look on it, lift it, bear it solemnly. Stand up and walk beneath it steadfastly. Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin. But onward, upward, till the goal, ye win."

- Poems, Frances Ann Kemble, 1844

"The church militant has moved onward and upward, unfaltering and undismayed."

- The Mandate of God for Israel's Advancement, 1846 

10 Examples of "Onward and Upward" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom used in various contexts:

  • Despite the setback, we must keep moving onward and upward.
  • We marched onward and upward, determined to keep in touch along the way.
  • After a challenging year, our team is ready to move onward and upward.
  • Her career has been on an onward and upward trajectory.
  • Marching onward and upward, they realize the grass is always greener on the other side.
  • Onward and upward to new adventures and opportunities.
  • We've faced our share of difficulties, but it's onward and upward now.
  • After receiving the promotion, his colleague said to him, "Onward and upward to a gentleman and a scholar."
  • Despite the loss, the team remains committed to moving onward and upward.
  • Onward and upward! Thanks for the invite. I'm excited to see where this opportunity will take me.

Examples of "Onward and Upward" in Pop Culture

"Onward and upward" has appeared in various forms of popular culture, such as movies, television shows, songs, and books.

Some examples include:

  • "I'm sorry, but this is who I am. Onward and upward... Dad." - Astroboy (2009)
  • "Onward and upward, Prince. Hurry to the palace and reclaim your throne!" - Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005 video game)
  • "And so, onward and upward the tired trekkers trudged on feverish footsies over perilous paths." —George of the Jungle (1997)

Other/Different Ways to Say "Onward and Upward"

There are several other expressions that convey a similar message of progress, growth, and improvement.

Some alternatives include:

  • Keep moving forward
  • Up and at 'em
  • Forge ahead
  • Press on
  • Keep on keeping on

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Onward and Upward":

  • What does "onward and upward" mean?

"Onward and upward" is an idiom that represents progress, improvement, and moving forward in life or in a situation, often after facing challenges or setbacks.

  • Where did the phrase "onward and upward" come from?

"Onward and upward" is believed to have originated in the mid-19th century, and it gained popularity through its use in literature, speeches, and other works by various authors and public figures.

  • How do you use "onward and upward" in a sentence?

Here's an example sentence using "onward and upward": "Onward and upward, time to let go of 'the one that got away' and move forward."

  • Is "onward and upward" considered informal?

"Onward and upward" is a versatile expression that can be used in both informal and formal contexts.

  • Are there any alternatives to saying "onward and upward"?

Yes, other ways to convey a similar meaning include: moving forward, making progress, advancing, and progressing.

  • Is "onward and upward" a regional expression?

"Onward and upward" is commonly used in English-speaking countries and regions, without any specific regional focus.

  • Can "onward and upward" be used in formal contexts?

Yes, "onward and upward" is suitable for both informal and formal contexts, depending on the situation.

  • Does "onward and upward" have any historical connections?

Yes, "onward and upward" can be traced back to the mid-19th century and has been used in various literary and historical contexts since then.

  • Has "onward and upward" appeared in pop culture?

Yes, "onward and upward" has been used in various forms of popular culture, such as movies, television shows, songs, and books, especially those that focus on themes of progress and overcoming challenges.

  • Is "onward and upward" still used today?

Yes, the phrase "onward and upward" continues to be used today to convey a sense of progress, improvement, and moving forward in life or in a situation.

Final Thoughts About "Onward and Upward"

In summary, "onward and upward" is an idiom that communicates progress, growth, and a positive outlook for the future. It can be used in both informal and formal contexts, making it a popular expression across various situations.

Key aspects of the idiom "onward and upward":

  • Conveys a sense of progress, growth, and optimism
  • Used in various situations, such as overcoming challenges or moving towards a brighter future
  • It has a rich history in literature and historical works

Today, the phrase continues to be relevant and widely used to convey a sense of moving forward and improving after facing setbacks. So, when you see someone overcoming challenges or progressing towards a better future, don't hesitate to tell them "onward and upward" to support and motivate them in their journey.

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