Keeping Up With the Joneses – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you always buying the same stuff as your neighbors to keep up with their lifestyle? If so, you’re playing the game of “keeping up with the Joneses.” This post unpacks the meani8ng and origin of this proverb.

Meaning

The proverb’s meaning, “keeping up with the Joneses,” pertains to the need for middle-class and upper-class people to follow the herd in terms of their social responsibility and lifestyle. If one neighbor were to get a sit-down mower, the rest of the neighborhood would make the same purchase to show that they have the same money and access as their neighbors, offering a false sense of prosperity.

The phrase shows how some people value social stature above their ability to be financially responsible. They will value material possessions over financial security and living frugally.

Example Usage

“The Thompsons are always buying new stuff. Last week they had a swimming pool put in, and George got himself a new Corvette. It looks like they’re keeping up with the Joneses.”

“She must be keeping up with the Joneses with all that spending. There’s no way she can afford that; I wonder what her credit card bill looks like?”

“The neighbors all always keeping up with the Joneses. They get Amazon deliveries every day and a new car every year.”

“I’m tired of living this lifestyle of keeping up with the Joneses. It’s like they say, the things you own end up owning you.”

“Why do I feel like I’m just keeping up with the Joneses over here. Do I really need a new car and the latest iPhone?”

Origin

The origin of the term “keeping up with the Joneses” comes from the iconic comic strip of the same name, created by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand. The strip’s debut in 1913 was a hit with The New York World and other newspapers, running up till 1940.

The strip follows the life of the “McGinis family” and their attempt to climb the social ladder by keeping up with the consumerist behavior of their neighbors, “The Joneses.”

There are plenty of comical events in the 30-years of the strip running, and the use of the phrase spread across America as a way to say someone is trying to keep up with the social pressures of consumerism, to their detriment.

Phrases Similar to Keeping Up with the Joneses

  • Maintaining appearances.
  • One-upping the competition.
  • Follow the lemmings.

Phrases Opposite to Keeping Up with the Joneses

  • Being frugal.
  • Not following the herd.
  • Don’t follow the pack.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Keeping up with the Joneses.

Ways People May Say Keeping Up with the Joneses Incorrectly

The phrase only applies figuratively to other families in your neighborhood or community, not the Jones family in particular. Using the words to describe a direct affiliation to a family is the incorrect use of the word. You can replace the “Joneses” in the expression with any family name, which will have the same effect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Keeping Up with the Joneses

You can use the expression “keeping up with the Joneses” when you’re looking to describe your behavior or that of others. Typically, it represents your need to keep up with the evolving lifestyle requirements of people in your social class.

In many cases, it applies to people placing themselves in a bad financial position for the sake of keeping up appearances with neighbors, friends, colleagues, or peers. You can use it to describe people’s behavior, increasing their lifestyle when you have no idea where they are getting the money from. Or you could use it to describe your behavior and the need to cut back on expenses.

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