Keeping Up with the Joneses

Posted by ESC on January 18, 2002

In Reply to: Keeping up with the Joneses posted by Bob on January 17, 2002

: : I understand this phrase to mean keeping up at least the appearance of wealth or class to the roughly equivalent degree that one's neighbors exhibit same, particularly in terms of the display of physical possessions. The earlier discussion of Jonesing, and particularly the noun, Jones, made me wonder if there was a connection, since both the noun Jones and the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" seem to hinge on acquisition. On the other hand, "Jones" is quite a common surname in the U.S., and I had previously assumed that "keeping up with the Joneses" was phrased with "Joneses" in it to impart the ubiquity of the phenomenon. Any ideas on whether ubiquity or acquisitivity is the guiding principle here?

: "Keeping up with the Joneses" has a much longer history than "Jones," meaning habit. The latter originated in Afro-American slang, made more popular/widespread by the song "I've Got a Basketball Jones," a few years back. I don't believe there's a connection. (By the way, last I heard, Johnson was the most common American surname. The single most common name in the UK is David Jones.)

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES -- "According to his own account, cartoonist Arthur R. ("Pop") Momand lived in a community where many people tried to keep up with the Joneses. Momand and his wife resided in Cedarhurst, New York, one of Long Island's Five Towns, where the average income is still among America's highest. Living 'far beyond our means in our endeavor to keep up with the well-to-do class,' the Momands were wise enough to quit the scene and move to Manhattan, where they rented a cheap apartment and 'Pop' Momand used his Cedarhurst experience to create his once immensely popular 'Keeping Up with the Joneses' comic strip, launched in 1913. Momand first thought of calling the strip 'Keeping Up with the Smiths,' but 'finally decided on 'Keeping Up with the Joneses' as being more euphonious.' His creation ran in American newspapers for over 28 years and appeared in book, movie, and musical-comedy form, giving the expression 'keeping up with the Joneses' the wide currency that made it a part of everyday language." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).