What does the idiom "keep up with the Joneses" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does keep up with the Joneses mean? In what situations is keep up with the Joneses used?

Meaning of "keep up with the Joneses"

Meaning

The idiom ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is an expression to describe a competition between two or more people or groups to maintain or acquire a certain level of wealth, possessions or status. This term is used to convey a sense of trying to stay on par with those around you by measuring yourself against them. It implies that one is benchmarking their success against their peers, and keeping up with their achievements.

Etymology

The phrase originated in the United States in the early 20th century, and is said to have derived from the comic strip series with the same name. The strip, created by Arthur R. 'Pop' Momand, ran from 1913 to 1940, and featured the Jones family – a prosperous, middle-class family living in a small American town. The Joneses were seen as the epitome of success, and their neighbours and society in general tried to keep up with their lifestyle, fashion, possessions and attitudes.

The phrase has since morphed into a broader idiom that covers the wider competition of people to try to maintain a certain image or level of wealth and possessions.

Usage

The 'keep up with the Joneses' idiom can be used in a variety of different contexts to describe varying levels of ambition, competitiveness and social comparison.

On a more negative note, the expression can be used to describe those driven by material possessions and an obsession with having the latest and best of everything. It implies that money and material goods are more important than focusing on personal or communal goals and relationships.

On a more positive note, it can be used to describe those who use the competition as a source of motivation and inspiration to push themselves towards their goals. It can also be used in a more light-hearted manner to describe people who are concerned with being fashionable or having the latest gadgets.

Example Sentences

  • John is always looking to buy the most expensive cars and gadgets - he's really trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Jane got a promotion and now she's trying to keep up with the Joneses by buying a better car and a new house.
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The meanings of the words in the "keep up with the Joneses" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.

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