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  • Keeping Up With The Joneses – What does it mean in English?

    Keeping up with the Joneses is an English idiomatic expression that regularly appears in conversation and also, though less frequently, in written English

    A few weeks ago, one of my students asked me the meaning of the expression keeping up with the Joneses. Is this an idiom you have used before? Do you know what it means?

    Let’s look at this now.

    What does Keeping Up with the Joneses mean?

    In this saying, the surname Jones alludes to any, generic, neighbor.

    To keep up with the Joneses refers to competitiveness between people. It means not falling behind your neighbor in terms of their material possessions and, in order to achieve this, buying whatever your neighbor has and doing what they do.

    For example, if your neighbor buys a new car, then to ‘keep up with them,’ you too will also need a new car. If they paint their house, then you should too, etc. The list is endless and refers to every possession, activity (like going on holidays) etc. It can be an unhealthy obsession.

    Of course, the use of the surname Jones normally refers to neighbors but it can also mean any acquaintance, colleague, friend etc.

    A Quick Exercise to Practice this Idiom

    Let’s look at an artistic representation of the concept of keeping up with Joneses:

    What does the cartoon depict?

    What problems do you think people who try constantly to keep up with the Joneses would have?

    Do you think that you, in any aspect of your live, could be said to keep up with the Joneses?

     

    Where does the expression come from?

    Keeping up with the Joneses is said to have originated in a popular cartoon strip run in an American newspaper at the start of the 20th century by cartoonist Arthur Momand. Interestingly while the expression was the title of the cartoon, the Joneses were never actually featured in it. Instead the cartoon focused on the McGinis family who lived next door to the Joneses and who looked to them constantly as a source of reference as to what they should have and the social status they should be striving to attain.

    Want to keep learning? Check out our lessons on English expressions and English phrasal verbs. 

    • English Teacher

      Thank you for your explanation. It made my lesson much more interesting!