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NPR (October 23) reported that 8 in 10 Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year in comparison to about 7 in 10 adults in general, American adults under the caption “America's Facebook generation is reading strong.”

I don’t think I’ve head “He / she reads strong,” or “He / she is a strong reader” very often.

OALED shows “strong” as the adjective to mean “great in number” in its 14th definition from the top – 1. having a great power.

Is “Read strong” a popular way of saying “Read a lot (or hard)”? Can I say “listen to strong,” “Write strong,” or “eat / drink strong,” by the same token?

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I think that the phrase live strong, from Lance Armstrong's foundation, bleeds over into other phrases in the U.S., such as play strong. –  JLG Oct 29 '12 at 0:01
    
@Yoichi, I edited your title to match the exact phrase you're asking about. I didn't understand the question until I read the phrase "reading strong". –  Kristina Lopez Oct 29 '12 at 0:23
    
@Yoichi: As you'll be able to see from some of the comments, the "acceptable range" of this usage varies from speaker to speaker. Some will only know/accept it in "still going strong", which they'll see as a "frozen form". To others, it's effectively a "productive" form, which can be used with a wide variety of verbs. Not all verbs, but it would be hard for me to specify exactly which you can never use - and more crucially, why the construction isn't acceptable with those verbs. (Another incisive and intriguing question, by the way! :) –  FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 1:30
    
For reference, when i hear "strong reader", i think "someone who reads well". The quantity of reading doesn't matter (except insofar as it serves as practice, of course). "Reads strong" and "reading strong" just sound terribly awkward to me; "strong" is typically an adjective, not an adverb. I live in the US (VA), if that matters. –  cHao Oct 29 '12 at 14:52
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

NOAD says the phrase going strong means "continuing to be healthy, vigorous, or successful," with a usage example of "the program is still going strong after twelve episodes." Macmillan defines it as "successful or healthy, and doing well", with these two examples:

The company's going strong and we expect to do even better next year.
My grandmother's 95 and still going strong
.

It's interesting that two of the three dictionary examples have the word still, as many of Xantix's example above also have. That's often the sentiment conveyed: it's now past the time you thought something would have faded into obscurity, yet it continues to endure. In the case of the NPR article, some might be surprised to find the Facebook generation – obsessed with 160-character texts and 140-character tweets – would be hardy readers of those old-fashioned relics we call books, yet statistics show that that generation is reading strong.

I think that the "going" in "going strong" can be replaced with other "-ing" verbs, and the expression retains the same meaning, although in a more localized sense. So, the only way to make, say, listening strong "work" would be to devise a context where it seems surprising that some particular person or audience was still actively listening. One possibility might be:

Even though Lawrence Welk has been dead for 20 years, his show continues to be aired on PBS, and his fans are still listening strong.

Although I'd also agree with Bill Franke's comments above: the expression should be used sparingly, as it could easily be overused, and oftentimes there are probably better ways to convey the same sentiment:

Even though Lawrence Welk has been dead for 20 years, his show continues to be aired on PBS, with a band of faithful listeners tuning in each week.

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I don't disagree with the broad thrust of any answers so far, but I think this is probably the best summary of the position. And even though I wouldn't go so far as to say all modern usages are variants on the "frozen form" "still going strong", the point about most usages involving "still" is important. There's invariably a sense of continuing, and/or at a level beyond what might be expected. –  FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 3:44
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I have only seen this construction with the "-ing" form of a verb.

A sentence like:

I started singing yesterday, and I am still singing strong.

means that even though time has passed from when I started to sing, I am not now singing in a weak fashion.

So with regards to:

"America's Facebook Generation is reading strong."

The "strong" could mean either:

  • Individual readers have not weakened in the reading skills.
  • Taken as a group, people are still reading in large numbers. (i.e. the Generation has not weakened in quantity of reading performed).

It would not be taken as meaning:

  • The group is reading strong (hard) books such as "A Tale of Two Cities" or other classics.

You can use this with other verbs in the "-ing" form, for example:

The party ends at four in the morning, till then, everyone will be dancing strong.

With the election still a couple of weeks away, the candidates are campaigning strong.

Even though she lost control of most of her muscles, she is still eating strong.

Notwithstanding his brush with death, Lance Armstrong is living strong.

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I've seen, heard, and used the idiom still going strong, but your "still singing strong" and "will be dancing strong" etc. all sound strange to me. I'd say dancing away, campaigning hard, able to eat normally, and "Lance is living strong** just because it's his motto. This construction must be some kind of localism. –  user21497 Oct 29 '12 at 0:14
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@Bill Franke: What J.R. said. I'm sure almost everyone would be happy with "still going strong" - and no-one would accept, say, "still waiting strong". But I think it's putting a bit strong to suggest any usage going beyond what you personally are happy with "must be some kind of localism". –  FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 0:56
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Just corrected to "-ing" form. Interesting apparently Gerund is only used in English for the nouning of the verb by adding "-ing". When I learned Italian, we called using the similar verb tense using the gerund. Like "Sto pensando". I'm glad I learned something new. –  Xantix Oct 29 '12 at 1:06
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@FumbleFingers: Thank you. I stand corrected. :-) –  user21497 Oct 29 '12 at 1:50
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@YoichiOishi Use the "-ing" form of the verb and you could probably get your examples to work. "Tom is still driving strong." The sentence: "Jim turned 100 this month and is still playing golf strong." is probably about as good as you could do with playing golf, but the strong just doesn't seem to fit since it is far away from playing. If you rephrase, you could get "Jim is a professional golfer. He turned 100 and is still playing strong." –  Xantix Oct 29 '12 at 2:07
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Strong has according to OED 1 a history dating back to the 10th century of use as an adverb, in (apparently) the same wide range of senses as the adjective, and in both colloquial and formal contexts.

This use is not common today (I should guess it has been repressed by the schoolmarms); but it has survived in some idiomatic phrases; here are a few:

  • Still going strong –of a person or machine, continuing to act with his/her/its wonted effect and efficiency. This one in particular is ‘strong’ enough to be extended to other verbs: still writing strong, still playing strong. (However, it's usually used of professional and public activities, not personal ones like eating.)
  • Come on strong –to express oneself boldly or rashly in the attempt to make a strong first impression
  • Pitch it strong –to make bold and unsubstantiated claims.

If I were charitable I would suggest that NPR's headline demonstrates a laudable historic sense of language and an admirable indifference to schoolmarmish strictures. I'm fond of NPR; but I don't believe it. I think this is just an awkward adaptation of still going strong, with the (to my ear) integral still omitted. But what the hey, it's only a headline.

I also think that pointing to the fact that "8 in 10 Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year" as evidence that "America's Facebook Generation is reading strong" is, to say the least, pitching it rather strong.

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I don't agree that "still going strong" is an "idiomatic fixed phrase". I accept it's not that common, but there are plenty of modern citations for "still XXX-ing strong" with other verbs. And incidentally, after a brief downturn in the 60s, still going strong seems to be going from strength to strength. –  FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 1:39
    
@FumbleFingers Valid point. I will edit. –  StoneyB Oct 29 '12 at 1:42
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I did find this one instance in a 100-year-old "Antarctic diary", but I think you're probably on the right track saying it's usually confined to "professional and public activities". Specifically, perhaps, activities that might otherwise be expected to decline due to advancing age or some other "progressively limiting" factor - such as the implicit "education is going to the dogs" attitude which OP's citation refutes. –  FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 3:32
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