8.27.2011

Where Does "Keep Calm, Carry On" Come From?

Update [May 29, 2012] This blog post is my most popular post of all time, with nearly 7,000 views as of May 29, 2012. Since writing this post and receiving some very enlightening comments, my opinion on the Keep Calm posters is not as harsh. I still believe that there are some very crude and offensive variations of the original poster, and that people who own Keep Calm products should know the origins of the poster, but I don't think it's neccessarily wrong to own Keep Calm products. I've left my blog post un-touched and un-edited, but wanted to post a little update for anyone reading this.

I'm sure that you've seen this phrase pasted on pillows, coffee mugs, book marks etc.


There are tons of variations of the saying now. Some are cutesy like Keep Calm and Go Shopping, or Keep Calm and Drink Tea. Some are plain awful like Keep Calm and Drink On.


After seeing this saying in multiple stores and websites, I started wondering where this saying came from. I'm now here to educate you on where "Keep Calm and Carry On" came from.
The phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On" appeared on a poster in Britain in 1939, during World War II. The poster was meant to encourage and lift the spirits of the British people during such a devastating and frightful time for the country. This poster received only little distribution during its publication, and was relatively unheard of. Until now. The poster was discovered in 2000 and re-distributed as various decorative items.

Original Poster


When I first discovered the origins of this poster and phrase I was deeply saddened. Most people that purchase a product with this slogan have no idea that it was developed to encourage people during WW2, people that were afraid that their child's school would be bombed, that their husband or son would be killed in action, or that they wouldn't have food or shelter to protect their families.
It's devastating to me to think that we are buying these products when our daily problems are relatively insignificant compared to the daily issues of a British citizen in 1939. I also feel like these "new versions" of the posters are poking fun of, or at the very least, trivializing the original meaning of this poster.

Perhaps others will consider that my reaction is too dramatic. That it's simply a poster that has brought some fun into our lives. How would you feel if a poster that was published for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, or the victims of the Earthquake in Haiti, was being used as a decorative item in the homes of people 50-years from now? That there were disgusting variations of this poster even. What is most saddening is that many people don't even know where this poster comes from, or the history of it.

What are you thoughts about "Keep Calm and Carry On"? Did you already know the history of the poster? Is this your first time hearing about it? I'd be interested to get some feedback on this.

10 comments:

  1. I think that although we are not going through a devastating war like that right now what is going on in the world is not simply "insignificant". No there is more bullying, suicide, cutting, eating disorders, family problems, abuse, etc. more then ever. If people would like to use these for their own needs, a smile or something nice to hang up, its their own prerogative.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. My point in this blog is mostly to bring awareness to what "Keep Calm, Carry On" originates from. I don't think it's wrong to have a mug with "Keep Calm, Carry On", but I would hope that people would know the history of the saying, and have reverence for it. I also think that turining it into a parody, with "Keep Calm, Drink On", or "Keep Calm, Carrie Fisher" etc is inappropriate. I'm not going to turn up my nose at someone who has a Keep Calm, Carry On pillow. Thanks for your comment :)

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  3. Hey Brianna,

    Great post! Hope you won't mind my feedback :) To start off, I had not heard the history of this slogan until I read your post and I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn about something I would have just brushed off as a cute quote. (ps I just read the other comment and your reply, so bear with me if this covers some of what you say!)

    I agree with your thoughts on how this poster was "meant to encourage and lift the spirits." How great is it that there were optimists out there who wanted to uplift their fellow Brits? It amazes me that they could be so positive in such a negative world. I can't imagine living in such a time, even though there are people across the world in the same situations, wondering if they will see their kids again or if they will be able to eat dinner tonight. I know we could learn a lot from them and I thank the Lord for how blessed we are to be living here!!

    My disagreement about it being devastating to you since "our daily problems are relatively insignificant compared to the daily issues of a British citizen" is that, yes, our problems are nowhere near the same as theirs, but it doesn't mean our problems aren't real or that they don't actually affect our daily lives or our outlook and positivity on the world around us. This does not mean we are trivializing the origin of the slogan. So many people are clinically depressed these days, but clinical depression is different than situational depression. A lot of people don't understand that. A clinically depressed person cannot just will themselves to feel happy, to just see the positive side of the situation. The chemicals are sending their brains the wrong signals and no matter how much they want to think positively, it just doesn't happen. So to see these posters, or to be given a bookmark to encourage me and uplift my spirits, is a blessing. There is nothing more frustrating than being told to just "think happy" when you are depressed. But something like "keep calm" seems like whoever is saying it actually understands.. maybe "think happy" is not as altruistic? I'm not sure what the difference is, but I know I'd much rather receive a bookmark reminding me to keep calm, than I would telling me to cheer up or think happy. (sorry for the rant on depression haha!) Now that I know the background of the saying, I think it is even more powerful of a message. Why can't we be positive now, as they were back then, in a world much greater and calmer than it was in 1939?

    I also agree with your opinions on how people are using it to make horrific variations of it, especially after learning where the slogan came from. It would be horrible to see items from such sad times such as the Earthquakes and Hurricanes you mentioned being mocked and I would not support that.

    In my opinion, the people who use the slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On" as a reminder of how bad things have been, and not as a cynical parody, should not be discouraged from doing so.

    Thanks for hearing my side :)
    Ashlee

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  4. Hey Ashlee,

    Thanks so much for the comment, and yes I agree. perhaps my slant was a bit harsh, and I'm coming to realize that.

    To be honest, when I was saying "our daily problems", I moreso meant when we stress about silly things that are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I do this all the time (complaining that I'm tired from work and don't want to make dinner, or stressing that we don't have enough money to buy a house when we have a perfectly good home). I completely agree with what you say about clinical depression, and even wrote a post about postpartum:
    http://thisrookiewife.blogspot.com/2011/07/interview-postpartum-depression.html

    I think our world today has great issues and problems, and each individual does too. I just think that often this phrase "Keep Calm, Carry On" and variations of it do trivialize the true meaning. If someone were to have this phrase in their home to encourage them, I think that's wonderful.

    Another thing I didn't touch upon in the blog post is how "corporate america" is making money off of this slogan without giving true tribute to the actual story. Wouldn't it be lovely if on the tag, the story of this phrase was printed for all consumers to pay tribute to victims of WW2?

    Overall, the point of the post was to bring awareness to people of what the true meaning of this phrase is. If this allows people to appreciate "keep calm, carry on", that is all that matters :)

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  5. It definitely did bring awareness, and I'm so glad you posted it! And it definitely made me appreciate the quote a lot more! I see where you're coming from about the daily problems and stressing out over the little stuff, and that's definitely been something I've been trying to work on lately.
    I also think your suggestion about having the history attached with the purchases is amazing.. not only for paying tribute to the victims of WW2, but also for the conversations it will start such as ours, and maybe people will realize just how blessed we are :D
    Once again, great post Bri!

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  6. I think it's meant to be for motivation..we all need that from time to time no matter what year it is.

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  7. i would like to thank you for the very informative post about the origins of the saying and i must say, it is indeed rather interesting and definitely, it is rather disappointing that the origin and story behind the saying is relatively unheard of. However, i do not think we are trivializing the original meaning behind the saying. as much as it can be said that this was used in WW2 to keep up the spirits of british people, however, it is a very general phrase and does not actually carry a very deep meaning. therefore, for many people who get posters and decorations with the saying, they might get it in the capacity that they just wanted something that sounded inspirational or a slogan to instill some positivity in their everyday life. the modifications to the phrase/saying, thought you might feel is disrespectful, but however, i like to see it more as creativity and even though i can see where you are coming from, given that this saying was from the darkest days of the world, however it is not a memorial of the WW2 and its horror, but rather, a saying to bring positivity to anyone. and as such, i think creative variations of the saying is rather interesting as it brightens up the saying and definitely brings more awareness to it. once again, i really thank you for bringing awareness to the origins of the phrase

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  8. Here's the story from the bookstore where the poster was uncovered.
    It's on youtube as "The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FrHkKXFRbCI

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  9. Hello,

    Very interesting story, I was wondering where did this saying come from. A lot of my friends have shirts with the "Keep Calm" saying on it. I was not aware of the history behind it, but curious to find out . I was not aware that the cause behind this saying was so serious and tragic.But my opinion is that people do wear this shirt and have know idea about the saying or where it even came from, but that's there choose. We as people all sometimes do something or even say something and don't know the meaning or symbolism behind it, it's life. So if people want to wear this shirt and not know anything about it, let them, but you do what you feel and don't wear it. Thanks for the information ! :)

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  10. I actually got some post -it notes one time with the slogan and the story of how it came to be on them. It was neat!

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