To strive to match one's neighbors
It's not clear when this expression first appeared but it was popularized by Arthur R "Pop" Momand's Keeping Up With the Joneses comic strip that ran for 26 years from 1913 and was distributed by Associated Newspapers. The Joneses, neighbors of the cartoon's main characters, were never actually seen in the cartoons.
Evidence that the expression may have been in use earlier that 1913 comes from The Corn-Pone Opinions, written by Mark Twain in 1901 but not published until 1923 (it was found in his papers after his death). In this he writes, "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."
Although some see the Joneses as simply a generic for the family next door, others make a connection to the exceptionally rich family of Edith Wharton (born Edith Jones) who were prominent in New York Society and were one of the first to build a grand country villa in the Hudson Valley; others followed suit, with each house becoming grander than the last.
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