keep on keeping on

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keep on keeping on

Post by incarnatus est » Sun Apr 20, 2008 8:46 pm

I'd like to know the origin(s) of this phrase. I know it was popularized by the singer Curtis Mayfield in the 1970s, but did he coin the phrase?

And is it keepin' or keeping?

Thanks, Hugh Gilmore

Re: keep on keeping on

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:23 pm

It most likely came after "keep on truckin" and "keep the faith" as an encouragement that when you can't keep doing those things, it is hoped that at least you'll be able to "keep on". Most likely it was the -in' form.

Re: keep on keeping on

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Apr 21, 2008 9:18 am

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

Re: keep on keeping on

Post by mcbeandon » Sat Apr 16, 2016 1:12 pm

Well, isn't this fun! A simple search in Mr. Google and I'm now a member of Wordwizard . . .

Keep on keepin' on (with or without the "g" depending on the mood (usually without!)) has in my life been the conclusion of a copious number of conversations, especially when they travel to dark places and/or questions of life purpose . . . this phrase which has been my bottom line of belief was, until yesterday, the sole propriety of Bob Dylan from "Tangled Up In Blue"
"and when finally the bottom fell out I became withdrawn
"the only thing I knew how to do, was to keep on keepin' on
"like a bird that flew . . .tangled up in blue"
And when a random passing hallway conversation with a colleague (of a close to same generation and certainly of a same interest) yesterday concluded with her tossing of the phrase to me I stopped short. To my exclamation of how these words are the core of my worldview she replied "Of course, John Lennon - "Old Dirt Road".

Well, it's not 24 hours later and I'm still at it . . . we can also add movies, more songs, the acronym (I'm an acronym guy, can't believe I hadn't 'anacronymed' this!) and Wordwizard . . . and the list goes on . . . Bottom line, 4 simple words that say so much . . .

Re: keep on keeping on

Post by wherrmann » Mon Sep 09, 2019 12:52 pm

I understood this was coined by Edgar Fiske ("Daddy") Allen, the founder of the Easter Seals (1907) and its president into the 1930s. Not sure when he started using the phrase, but he traveled extensively worldwide, and generated a lot of press in his dogged promotion to gain funding to build facilities for disabled children. Here's a mention: ... 5372/rec/1

Re: keep on keeping on

Post by Phil White » Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:48 pm


wherrmann , and welcome!

Pretty well all the early references I can find are from the early 20th century, which would put the expression in the timeframe you suggest.

However, the very earliest occurrence I can uncover is from 1846:
"Keep on keeping on," as the bricklayer's labourer said, and our true position will soon be given to us.

The Reasoner: 'Herald of Progress', Wednesday June 3, 1846 ... 22&f=false
So Allen may well have popularized the expression, but he certainly didn't coin it.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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