“Keeping up with the Joneses” is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.
The phrase was popularized when a comic strip of the same name was created by cartoonist Arthur R. “Pop” Momand. The strip debuted in 1913, distributed by Associated Newspapers. The strip ran in American newspapers for 26 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The “Joneses” of the title were neighbors of the strip’s main characters, unseen characters often spoken of but never actually seen in person. In the 1936 book, The Next 100 Years, Clifford C. Furnas noted: “Keeping with the Joneses” descended from the spreading of the peacock’s tail.
American humorist Mark Twain made an allusion to Smith and Jones families with regard to social custom in the essay “Corn Pone Opinions,” written in 1901 but first published in 1923. “The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict.”
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