Plugging Along: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 5, 2023

The idiom "plugging along" means continuing to work or progress steadily despite difficulties or challenges. It implies a sense of perseverance, determination, and patience.

In short:

  • It means to keep going or moving forward with one's work or goals.
  • It is often used to describe a slow but steady pace or progress.
  • It can also express a positive or optimistic attitude in the face of adversity.

What Does "Plugging Along" Mean?

To persist in working or progressing at a steady pace, regardless of the difficulties or challenges that one may face, is what the idiom "plugging along" means. It demonstrates that one has perseverance, determination, and patience as virtues.

Where Does "Plugging Along" Come From?

The origin and history of the idiom "plugging along" are unclear. However, one possible theory is that the phrase comes from the noun "plug," which means a piece of wood or metal used to stop the flow of liquid or gas from a pipe or container. In this sense, "plugging along" could mean stopping the flow of negative influences or distractions that could hinder one's work or progress.

Historical Example

"He got up and buttoned his jacket… He went on listening… He was now becoming interested himself… He was soon deeply absorbed in his book… He was plugging away at his book."

—excerpt from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain in 1876

10 Examples of "Plugging Along" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how to use the idiom "plugging along" in various sentences:

  • I'm just plugging along with my thesis, hoping to finish it anytime soon.
  • She's been plugging along with her piano lessons day in and day out.
  • He's not happy with his job but keeps plugging along because he needs the money.
  • They've been plugging along with their marriage because they believe marriages are made in heaven.
  • We've been plugging along with this project for months and can't wait for the results.
  • Hazel has been plugging along with her chemotherapy treatment to stay positive and hopeful.
  • Yaas! She's been plugging along with her novel, writing a few pages daily.
  • I don't care if I'm not very good at math. I'm plugging along with my homework anyway.
  • Yoink. Despite the pandemic and travel restrictions, they've been plugging along with their travel plans.
  • He's been plugging along with his recovery, slowly regaining his strength and mobility.

Examples of "Plugging Along" in Pop Culture

Here are some examples of the idiom "plugging along" in pop culture:

  • In the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness," the protagonist, Chris Gardner, faces many hardships as a homeless single father trying to pursue a career as a stockbroker. Still, he never gives up and keeps "plugging along" until he achieves his dream.
  • In the TV show "The Office," Jim Halpert works at a dull and dysfunctional paper company but keeps "plugging along" with his job and his romance with Pam Beesly.
  • In the video game "Super Mario Bros." the player controls Mario, a plumber who has to rescue Princess Peach from the evil Bowser. Still, he keeps "plugging along" with his jumping and running skills despite the many obstacles and enemies he faces.
  • In the blog "Humans of New York" by Brandon Stanton, the author interviews and photographs ordinary people in New York City. However, despite the many stories and emotions he hears, he keeps "plugging along" with his curiosity and empathy.

Other Ways to Say "Plugging Along"

There are many other ways to say "plugging along" in English, depending on the context and the tone.

Here are some synonyms and alternative expressions for the idiom:

  • To keep going
  • To carry on
  • To persist
  • To persevere
  • To endure
  • To hang in there
  • To stick with it
  • To press on
  • To grind on
  • To make do

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Plugging Along"

Here are some common questions and answers about the idiom "plugging along":

  • What does "plugging along" mean?

The idiom "plugging along" means continuing to work or progress steadily despite difficulties or challenges. It implies a sense of perseverance, determination, and patience.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "plugging along"?

The origin and history of the idiom "plugging along" are unclear. However, one possible theory is that the phrase comes from the noun "plug," which means a piece of wood or metal used to stop the flow of liquid or gas from a pipe or container.

  • Is "plugging along" a positive or a negative expression?

It depends on the context and the tone of the speaker. It can be positive if it shows determination, resilience, and perseverance. It can also be damaging if it offers a sense of frustration, exhaustion, or resignation.

  • Is "plugging along" formal or informal?

It is primarily informal. It suits casual or conversational settings, such as talking to friends, family, or colleagues. It is inappropriate for formal or academic settings, such as writing an essay, a report, or a speech.

  • Is "plugging along" an American or a British term?

It is more common in American English than in British English. However, it is not exclusive to either variety. It can be understood and used by American and British English speakers.

  • What are some idioms similar to "plugging along"?

Some idioms similar to "plugging along" are "to keep on keeping on," "to keep one's nose to the grindstone," "to keep the ball rolling," "keep one's chin up," and "to keep the faith."

  • How do you use "plugging along" in a sentence?

You can use "plugging along" as a verb phrase, followed by a preposition (such as with, at, or through) and an object (such as a noun or a gerund).

  • What is the difference between "plugging along" and "plugging away"?

Both expressions mean to work hard and steadily at something, to persist in doing something. However, there is a slight difference in nuance. "Plugging along" implies a slow but steady pace, a consistent effort. "Plugging away" means a more intense or vigorous action, a more complex work.

  • What is the difference between "plugging along" and "chugging along"?

Both expressions mean to move or proceed slowly but steadily, to continue at a regular pace. However, there is a slight difference in connotation. "Plugging along" suggests a more complex or challenging movement, a more laborious process. "Chugging along" offers a more smooth or easy training, a more effortless process.

  • What is the difference between "plugging along" and "soldiering on"?

Both expressions mean to continue doing something despite difficulties or hardships; to persevere bravely. However, there is a slight difference in tone. "Plugging along" is more neutral or casual; it does not imply any emotion or attitude. "Soldiering on" is more positive or commendable; it tells courage or honor.

Final Thoughts About "Plugging Along"

In conclusion, the idiom "plugging along" is a common and valuable expression in everyday language. It means to continue progressing or doing satisfactorily in some endeavor, especially in the face of difficulties or challenges. It can also mean to get by or to move slowly.

Here are some key points to remember about the idiom:

  • It can have different meanings depending on the speaker's context and tone.
  • It is primarily informal and more common in American than British English.
  • It can be used as a verb or adverbial phrase in a sentence.
  • It has some synonyms, variations, and related expressions that have similar meanings.

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