Please, what does “things will stay the course” and “That progress is a forward” mean in this context?

The source: Botticelli in the Fire, page 98;

Nuh Uh, take it from me-
It is not as easy to tell when you’re on the precipice as you might think. We convince ourselves things will more or less stay the course. That progress is a forward.

  • 1
    Should that be "progress is a-forward"?
    – Ben
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:01
  • "That progress is a forward" doesn't sound very idiomatic or even grammatical to me. "Stay the course" is in most good dictionaries, though.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:24

1 Answer 1


In sailing and nautical navigation, "stay the course" means "continue in the same (intended) direction", and "a-forward" means "in the direction the boat is pointing". "Stay the course" is a commonly used nautical metaphor.

So progress is a-forward means progress is to continue in the same direction

On that reading, the meaning is:

We convince ourselves that things will more or less continue in the same direction, and that progress means continuing in the same direction.

The author is suggesting that despite what we may think, we might not continue in the same direction, and if we did, perhaps that would not be "progress". Perhaps "progress" requires changing direction.

If you are on a precipice, continuing in the same direction may not be a good idea. In that case "progress" would require changing direction, as "staying the course" would mean falling over the precipice.

  • 1
    Note that in common parlance stay the course does not mean "continue in the same direction", but "keep going to the end of something", with an implication that there are hardships or distractions. But I agree that this meaning seems less appropriate than the nautical one for the quoted passage.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:13
  • @ColinFine Yes, in common parlance it means "continue with the planned course of action", but this because normal usage is a nautical metaphor in the first place, referring to the planned/intended course of a ship.
    – Ben
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:17
  • Thank you. In a very short we might say: we think our direction is more or less good (leads us to the end, to the goal) and to keep on going is also good, but it is not - maybe we should change the direction, correct?
    – Zuzana
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:29
  • More or less. The author is saying "we might think that but we might be wrong, because we might be on a precipice without knowing"
    – Ben
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:30
  • I'd like to see some evidence, such as the citation of a reputable dictionary, of the existence of the 'word' a-forward. In all my years at sea (admittedly, after the age of sail) I have never encountered it. Feb 12, 2023 at 11:32

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