Keeping up with the Joneses


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Keeping up with the Joneses'?

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is striving to match one’s neighbours in spending and social standing.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Keeping up with the Joneses'?

This term is 20th century American. It originated with Arthur (Pop) Momand’s Keeping Up With The Joneses comic strip in the New York Globe. The strip was first published in 1913 and became popular quite quickly. By September 1915, a cartoon film of the same name was touring US cinemas.

The ‘Joneses’ in the cartoon weren’t based on anyone in particular, and they weren’t portrayed in the cartoon itself. Jones was a very common name and ‘the Joneses‘ was merely a generic name for ‘the neighbours‘.

Of course, when looking for the source of this phrase the first thought is to try and find a real family called Jones who people might have measured themselves against. Step forward Edith Wharton, the American novelist and socialite, or rather, her father George Frederic Jones. Jones was a wealthy real-estate magnate in late 19th century New York. The Jones family, along with many of their rich friends, built increasingly lavish homes in the Hudson valley and it has been suggested that the race to impress the neighbours was the source of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. That explanation is plausible but, as we see so often, plausibility isn’t enough when it comes to etymology. The fact that the expression ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ isn’t found until Momand began his comic strip and is found numerous times thereafter deals a death blow to the Hudson Valley social scene explanation. Like so many names that appear in commonplace phrases, the Joneses weren’t real people but generic stereotypes.

Trend of keeping up with the joneses in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.