Hugh, The expression KEEP ON KEEPING ON
(KOKO), often means to persist in one’s efforts, persevere in the face of discouragement or misfortune, hang in there, don’t quit, keep on going. Although it is often used as a positive, such as a term of encouragement, it can also be used more negatively, as a term of grim resignation – just keep plodding along as you have been doing and as you will probably continue to do be doing, for a long, long time.
According to the quotes I dug up, as well as to the Cassell’s Dictionary or Slang
, the expression dates back to the 1910s and is actually older than its more popular synonym ‘keep on truckin(g)’ (1930s). It was, and still is, a popular saying, in religious circles for example, and was at one time (according to Eric Partridge – A Dictionary of Slang
) a common exhortation of the Salvation Army.
That the expression is quite popular, which I somehow was unaware of, can be appreciated by flipping through some of its 440,000 Google hits, several thousand of which refer to the Curtis Mayfield song you mentioned.
<1918 “Men cannot KEEP ON KEEPING ON at an alternately menacing and monotonous business [[that of soldiering in WWI]], enduring hardships, facing death, without some relaxation of mood.”—The Bulletin of the College Art Association of America, Vol. 1, No. 4, September, page 25>
<1936 “. . . as long as the economic system . . . does in fact keep on maintaining itself and growing, and plans to ‘KEEP ON KEEPING ON,’ as it historically has done when not demoralized by crisis conditions.”—The American Economic Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, September, page 409>
<1943 “For practical reasons a dance tune has to KEEP ON KEEPING ON saying the same thing; and a piece of music derived from it must to a considerable extent do the same thing.”—The Musical Times, Vol. 84, No. 1205, July, page 211>
<1954 “Obviously, the book points up Mr. Hughes’ versatility as a man of letters, his ability to KEEP ON KEEPING ON, and his ever-expanding concern for the education of the youth population of our time.”—The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 39, No. 2, April, 151>
<1977 “In many of our schools, in many of our English curricula, we just KEEP ON KEEPING ON, often doing the same things again and again at different levels, always omitting much that might be done.”—College English, Vol. 38, No. 5, Literacy and Basics, January, page 481>
<1986 “I got a letter from a preacher from rural Momence who told me to ‘KEEP ON KEEPING ON." He was resisting the war machine by refusing to pay ‘war taxes.’ At 88 years of age, it was the most dramatic way he could let his stand be known.”—Chicago Sun-Times, 14 June>
<1995 “People have seen three articulate, bright, successful black men who have represented their clients [[in particular O. J. Simpson]] with unsurpassed vigor, pride and professionalism. I believe with all my heart that they have inspired many, as they have me, to ‘KEEP ON KEEPING ON.’”—Washington Post, 11 October>
<2004 “The thing that is so clear about this election cycle is that you just have to KEEP ON KEEPING ON, because who knows what is going to happen?”—Time Magazine, 8 March>
<2008 “Billionaire Mr. Fox attributes his success in life to a positive attitude and the abilityto keep on fighting. ‘All through your life you've got to take a positive mental attitude and KEEP ON KEEPING ON.’”—AAP General News (Australia), 26 January>
(quotes from archived sources)
Ken G – April 21, 2008