keep on truckin'

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keep on truckin'

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Apr 23, 2008 6:11 pm

In the posting keep on keeping on, it was suggested that the phrase might have been based on its synonym KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. This turned not to be true since ‘keep on keeping on’ was the older term, first appearing in the 1910s. This got me to wondering about the origin of the far more popular KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. I found several listings, some of which included various accounts of its origin. I’ll start with the short and sweet (in a rare oversight, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang missed this one) and then get into the ones that offer greater detail.

DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG by Chapman

KEEP ON TRUCKING verb phrase by 1972 To carry on; continue what one is doing, especially working, plugging away, etc.; =‘keep on keeping on’
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BREWER’S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE & FABLE by Room

KEEP ON TRUCKING: To persevere. The reference is to long-distance haulage truckers, who keep going through the night.
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SHORTER DICTIONARY OF CATCH PHRASES by Partridge & Beale

KEEP ON TRUCKIN’!: Keep on doing what you’re doing; a general expression of encouragement. Since the 1930s. The phrase originated in the USA, where it was used in connection with the great marathon dance contests of the 1930s or with the type of lively dancing known as truckin’ (from a song of the same name, written in the mid-1930s). There is also an obvious link with truck-driving, and the phrase came back into vogue on bumper stickers, etc., in the 1970s.
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FACTS ON FILE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS by Hendrickson

KEEP ON TRUCKIN’: Keep going, keep moving , don’t quit. Etymologist Joseph T. Shipley wrote that the expression “comes from the great marathon dance contests that were part of our 1930s scene, when all the partners clung to one another, half-asleep, but on and on moving around the dance hall through the night, like great trucks that go endlessly across our continent through the dark hours, as they ‘keep on truckin’ for the prize.” This scene was brilliantly depicted in the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
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DEWDROPPERS, WALDOS, AND SLACKERS by Ostler

KEEP ON TRUCKIN’, meaning something like ‘hang in there’ or ‘keep persevering,’ was a popular phrase of encouragement in the 1970s. Underground comic artist Robert Crumb created a “Keep on Truckin’” poster showing a man with exaggeratedly long legs and large feet, strolling toward the edge of the poster. The phrase eventually turned up in greeting cards, T-shirts, and graffiti-laden walls. The young, the hip, and the casual adopted it as a way of saying “good-bye.”

The term trucking did not come from truckers. It originated with railroad porters and baggage carriers as a way of saying ‘move along,’ a reference to the baggage trucks used in railroad stations. An off-duty porter might say to his friends, “I think I’ll truck on home.” Dancer Bilo Russel invented a jazz step in the 1930s that became a common way of exiting from the stage. This move was also called trucking. Trucking was a popular dance in the thirties, based on a slow ambling movement.

Since truckers were trendy during the seventies, the public naturally connected them with keep on truckin’. Bumper stickers began appearing on trucks of the four-wheel variety, and even on cars. It’s more than likely that some of those trucks carried CB operators.
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THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF CATCH PHRASES by Farkas

KEEP ON TRUCKIN’: Popularized by Robert Crumb in cartoons appearing in his cult underground Zap Comix from 1968, and by the song ‘Truckin’,’ on the Grateful Dead’s classic 1970 album American Beauty. The phrase—one of encouragement, to persevere, to keep on going and moving ahead even when ‘they just won’t let you be’—became a popular image of the hippie counterculture. The origins of the phrase appears to date back to a popular dance step called ‘Truckin’’ introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933, and to a number of 1920s and 1930s songs, including the blues song ‘Keep on Truckin’’ and Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘Truckin’ My Blues Away.’ It was later featured in a number of Motown songs, including Eddie Kendrick’s hit ‘Keep on Truckin’,’ written and produced by Frank Wilson. The dance, associated principally with Black Americans, was described as a ‘strutting’ two-step which incorporated a ‘shuffle step and waving index finger.’ ‘Truck’ could also be used as a slang term for sexual intercourse.

Crumb had moved to San Francisco in 1966 where he began working on Zap Comix with other artists in the area. Zap Comix No 0, published in 1967, was a smash hit. Crumb and other artists, including Rick Griffin and Spain Rodriguez, became overnight sensations. For Zap No 1, published in 1968, Crumb created a six panel cartoon which ended with a big-footed character with his foot out saying ‘Keep On Truckin’.’ The image, with its accompanying phrase, struck a note in the collective hip unconscious, and for a while it was everywhere, including in the form of merchandise, most of which was produced without permission. Crumb collected royalties for years, but in the early 1970s a law suit emerged challenging Crumb’s copyright which had never been registered and in 1977 a federal judge ruled that Crumb had let the image fall into the public domain.

More recently, the line appeared in the lyrics of a song called ‘Novacane’ by Beck. The song is included on Beck’s 1996 album Odelay and begins: ‘Keep on Truckin’ like a novacane hurricane/Blowin’ static on the poor man’s short-wave.’
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So, the origin could have been from the marathon dance contests of the 1930s with the image of trucks driving through the night, or from the dance and song, which might have come from the image of the long-haul truck or from the baggage trucks used in railroad stations. Or the expression could have come from a jazz dance step, that was used for exiting a stage, which was based on the image of . . . . and which might or might not have been related to the popular dance step, . . . . and which was slang for sexual intercourse . . . . . . . . , but . . . . .

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, lets move on to have no truck, which is a serious problem if one wants to KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ – oh wait, we’ve already straightened that one out.
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Ken G – April 23, 2008
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Re: keep on truckin'

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Apr 23, 2008 7:10 pm

I think this is a very good example of modern research.
It can often be found that modern terms and expressions are given a multitude of origins by various 'authorititive' sources. I find it incredible that Mr. Chapman traces the origin back to 1972 when a number of songs were written in the 20's with this phrase in it. Bad research or selective writing?
Sometimes I wonder if researchers ever try to research modern language outside of books. 'If it's not on the page, it doesn't count.' :/
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Re: keep on truckin'

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Apr 23, 2008 8:40 pm

Phil H., Chapman is generally pretty good except for his dating. He covers his ass on dating by using the weasel word BY, which has always annoyed me. It is true that by 1972 the verb phrase KEEP ON TRUCKIN' was in use. It is also true that it was in use by 1962, 1952, 1942, and by the 1930s.
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Ken – April 23, 2008
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Re: keep on truckin'

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Apr 23, 2008 9:44 pm

'If it's not on the page, it doesn't count.', so of course I was wrong, but it certainly continues to feel like keep on keeping on followed keep on truckin', keep on trying, or keep on something. At least they are not separated by 50 years...
My first reading of the term was accompanied by ZAP's Mr. Natural.
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Re: keep on truckin'

Post by PhilHunt » Thu Apr 24, 2008 9:59 am

What about 'keep on creeping on'?
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