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To Succeed You Must 'Just Keep Swimming'

Swimmers compete in a race organized by the Paris Swim association, in the La Villette basin, Paris, Sept. 3, 2017.
Swimmers compete in a race organized by the Paris Swim association, in the La Villette basin, Paris, Sept. 3, 2017.
To Succeed You Must 'Just Keep Swimming'
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Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

On this program we explain the origin and usage of common phrases and expressions in American English.

Popular culture has a strong influence on language. The expressions that come from movies and television shows can be especially powerful.

When we use expressions that come from a movie or television experience shared by others, it can create a feeling of closeness with them. If someone says a line from one of your favorite movies, it is kind of like you both belong to the same club.

Some of these pop culture expressions have become so common that you might not even know the shows they come from. But you can still use them!

English has many phrases that have found their way into common usage. Today we talk about a water-based phrase and useful adjectives that relate to it.

If I say to you, just keep swimming, I am quoting a fish -- a really famous fish.

In the movie Finding Nemo, Dory is a friendly, helpful, optimistic fish. She becomes friends with Marlin, a clown fish who has just lost his only son.

Dory offers to help Marlin find Nemo. (Actually she does not take “no” for an answer.) The search is very difficult. Along the way, they face bloodthirsty, confused vegetarian sharks; bloodthirsty, but very clear-headed pelicans and dentists!

Every time Marlin feels like giving up Dory says to him, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

DORY: When life gets you down, you know what you got to (gotta) do?

MARLIN: I don’t want to know what you got to (gotta) do.

DORY: Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

MARLIN: Dory, no singing.

With these words, Dory is telling her friend that he should not give up. He should keep looking for his son.

At some point, we all face a difficult situation. We may feel frightened, sad or just overwhelmed. And we may want to give up. But then a friend says, “Just keep swimming,” and it gives us the hope we need to reach our goal – to finish strong.

The expression may come from a children’s film, but its meaning is not childish. And even if someone has not seen the film Finding Nemo, they most likely will know what you mean when you say it.

If you keep swimming you will not drown. Another expression, to keep your head above water, expresses a similar message. Don’t drown. Take action to survive, even if that is all you can do.

English has some great adjectives to describe people and things that do not give up.

One is resilient. Resilient people do not give up in the face of adversity. "Resilient" can refer to things, also. For example, a tree that keeps growing even after lightning strikes it, could be called a resilient tree.

Another adjective to describe someone who will not give up is indefatigable. Now, it does have six syllables. So, you may need to practice saying it. I know I did. A lot. Just remember that the stress is on the third syllable: in-de-FA-ti-ga-ble.

So, would I say “just keep swimming” in a very serious situation or to a very serious co-worker who I don’t know well? Probably not. But we do have other words of encouragement. You can say “Hang in there!” “You can do it!” or “Don’t give up!”

When we use expressions or phrases from movies or television shows, it is a way of sharing culture with another.

And that’s it for Words and Their Stories! I’m Anna Matteo.

I have some advice for you,

Don’t give up. Keep on trying.

You’re going to make it. I ain't lying.

Don’t give up. Don’t ever quit.

Try and try and you can do it.

Don’t give up. Yeah...

Was there a time when you had to encourage someone? Tell about it in the Comments Section, using "just keep swimming, "resilient" or "indefatigable."

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. The song at the end is Bruno Mars singing “Don’t Give Up” on the children's television show Sesame Street.


Words in This Story

club n. a group identified by some common characteristic

optimistic adj. feeling or showing hope for the future

bloodthirsty adj. eager for or marked by the shedding of blood, violence, or killing

confused adj. unable to understand or think clearly

vegetariann. a person who does not eat meat : someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products

pelican n. a large ocean bird that has a large bag that is part of its lower bill for catching and holding fish

overwhelmed adj. completely overcome or overpowered by thought or feeling

resilient adj. tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

adversity n. a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune

indefatigableadj. always determined and energetic in trying to achieve something and never willing to admit defeat

encouragement n. something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident