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The full sentence is this:

Most of the people just wanna keep up with the Joneses, despite the real Jones is living in a cave!

I heard this out the mouth of a non-native speaker. He wanted to emphasize that, for example, Facebook and Big Tech companies promote the use of social media and digital devices, while themselves having no trust in them. He implied that Mark Zuckerberg himself covers the front camera of his laptop.

Dose this sentence make sense to a native speaker? If I use it, will my audiences get the depth of word? Thanks.

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    What exactly are you concerned about? The Jones parts makes perfect sense. Despite has been used incorrectly. Aug 31, 2021 at 14:53
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    Despite is a preposition. It must be followed by noun phrase. Your sentence uses it as if it were a conjunction, and it is followed by a clause. Although or though would replace despite Aug 31, 2021 at 14:57
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    The way the title is written it makes perfect sense — you've just exposed somebody pretending to be Jones, and are telling us where the real one is! The full question does have some errors though. Sep 1, 2021 at 2:02
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    It's a custom extension of an idiom. As with many such extensions, whether it would make sense to any given person is less about English language and more about logic. But using "living in a cave" to suggest having no trust in something is arguably a misuse of that idiom (the idiom would simply imply that they don't use new technology, but Zuckerberg covering his webcam says nothing about how often he uses it nor about him using other cameras). Also, "the real Jones" seems likely to be interpreted as e.g. the real lives of internet personalities, not what Facebook's creator does
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 1, 2021 at 7:29
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    "The real Jones is living in a cave!" is grammatically correct as a sentence by itself, but not after "despite"
    – user253751
    Sep 1, 2021 at 9:12

6 Answers 6

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Most of the people just wanna keep up with the Joneses, despite the real Jones is living in a cave!

This sentence is understandable to native speakers, but there is a grammar error. You may have misheard the speaker or they may have made a mistake.

...despite the real Jones is living in a cave is not correct because "despite" needs to be followed by a noun, some thing, and "is living" is a verb rather than a noun. You could fix it like this:

...despite the fact that the real Jones is living in a cave!

But I think it more likely that the speaker did not say "Jones is" but rather repeated "Joneses" (meaning "the Jones family")—they just mentioned the Joneses as a group, and it would be strange to suddenly talk about a singular Jones instead. So:

...despite the real Joneses living in a cave!

This is grammatically correct because "living" on its own is a gerund, not a verb, and a gerund acts as a noun. You could insert "the fact that" and use "are living" to make it match the singular-subject example above, but you don't have to.

As others have said the metaphor is a little forced and doesn't mean exactly "Mark Zuckerberg covers his webcam." For that you might say something like "I guess what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander!" (which refers to another common saying in English but negates it) or "They want us to do as they say, not as they do" (as EllieK suggests). But in context your meaning will be understood.

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    Alternatively—and, to this native speaker’s ear, more idiomatically—using but instead of despite and keeping the is. Absolutely agreed on the repetition of Joneses.
    – KRyan
    Sep 1, 2021 at 1:07
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    Agree that the metaphor doesn't mean what the OP intends - I read it as a comment about false outward appearances on social media, where people drive themselves crazy trying to keep up with "Joneses" they see their feed, even though the actual life of those Joneses is not nearly as glamorous as their curated profiles suggest. Sep 1, 2021 at 16:10
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    Thanks for your great alternatives, but if I wanna use the sentence I said, in your opinion, it's not better to use a "themselves" at the end of the sentence? I mean the sentence becomes like this: despite the fact that real Joneses are living in a cave themselves!?
    – user141755
    Sep 2, 2021 at 10:35
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    @user48 no, that adds nothing at all to the meaning and makes the sentence sound more awkward. Also you left out a "the" in front of "real Joneses."
    – randomhead
    Sep 2, 2021 at 11:01
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    For completeness, note that many traditional grammars would have "despite the real Joneses’ living in a cave" with a possessive "Joneses’". See the Wikipedia article on gerunds, which says: "Nonetheless, the possessive construction with -ing clauses is very rare in present-day English." Sep 2, 2021 at 12:49
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Keeping up with the Joneses, is a common expression. It means that you want to look like you are doing as well financially as your neighbor, neighbor being defined in the broadest terms. Not strictly limited to financial success, it also includes things like quality of life (i.e. am I happy), success of your children, and other indicators of success.

Your example sentence states that the Joneses, being the people we are trying to keep up with, are not doing any better that we are. They are possibly doing worse than we are. This sentence also subtly implies that the Joneses we are tying to keep up with are not our neighbors but must be someone else. Maybe these Joneses are media creations?

I don't think the non-native speaker you mention is using the phrase correctly. The statement, when it includes the part about Joneses living in caves, is ironic and it would be used that way. The irony of Zuckerberg covering his laptop camera, however, is not captured in the Keeping up with the Joneses phrase. The laptop camera irony is a Do as I say, not as I do type of irony whereas the Joneses irony is different.

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    @user48 - The statement, when it includes the part about Joneses living in caves, is ironic and it would be used that way. The irony of Zuckerberg covering his laptop camera, however, is not captured in the Keeping up with the Joneses phrase. That phrase illustrates a different kind of irony. The laptop camera irony is a Do as a say, not as I do type of irony. Whereas the Joneses irony is different and not as easily explained. Aug 31, 2021 at 16:04
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    This last comment you've written, "The laptop camera irony is..." deserves to be in the answer. It's an important clarification.
    – Juhasz
    Aug 31, 2021 at 16:11
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    I think the irony kind of works — the point about the cave isn't that they're so destitute that they have to live in a cave, but rather that the Zuckerbergs of the world are so afraid of the technology they themselves created (and made all the would-be startup founders want to chase) that they are hiding in a (primitive) cave. Sep 1, 2021 at 0:34
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    @user48 The ‘Joneses’ idiom refers to comparing yourself to your peers: people who may be ever-so-slightly better-off than you but still within the same (usually) middle-class ‘league’. It refers to the struggle not to fall behind the average person. Zuckerberg et al. can hardly be called your peers: they are not ‘average’ people, they are elites who tower above the Joneses of the world. Sep 1, 2021 at 8:14
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    I think the person who said "keeping up with the Joneses" may misunderstand that idiom, perhaps due to the TV show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians", which is about an ultra-rich family (and in this case, "keeping up with" doesn't mean achieving equal status, but learning about their activities). But I agree with @ChrisBouchard about the cave analogy.
    – Barmar
    Sep 1, 2021 at 14:26
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I think the origin of the saying is British petty snobbery. The Joneses (plural) are a family of hypothetical or generic better-off neighbours. I would want to see "Most of the people just want to keep up with the Joneses, despite the fact that the real Joneses are living in a cave!"

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    One explanation for the expression "Keeping up with the Joneses" refers to a mid 19th-century Hudson Valley (New York) socialite Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, whose ostentatious lifestyle and palatial estate aroused the envy of her (also wealthy) neighbors, who strove to keep up with her spending. Regarding the "real Joneses" living in a cave, that would imply a rejection of modern life, the opposite of frantic spending to appear to be in the same league as someone else -- the chase for social status.
    – Phil Perry
    Sep 2, 2021 at 2:23
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Maybe I'm parsing it in an antiquated way, but the whole sentence is resolving as

Most of the people just wanna keep up with the Joneses, despite [implied: the fact that] the real Jones (i.e.: 'Mx. Jones', the head of the Jones family) is living in a cave [intending to illustrate the disparity between apparent and substantive material conditions]!

I don't feel there is any critical barrier to understanding, and it could even be somewhat poetic.

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The expression “Keeping up with the Joneses” was popularized in a newspaper comic strip from 1913, and today is a disapproving way to say that someone is trying to match someone else in conspicuous consumption.

It would be appropriate if, say, all the billionaires were all competing to build their own spaceships, even bigger and flashier than Elon Musk’s, and then Elon Musk announced he was selling SpaceX and donating the money to public health in Africa. Or if Mark Zuckerberg had the most incredible backgrounds on his Zoom meetings, or the fanciest costumes, and everyone were trying to outdo him, and then he just started turning his camera off so they could focus on getting work done.

That’s not what’s happened here, though: the irony is that Zuckerberg wants privacy for no one but himself. I like the suggestion of, “Do as Zuck says, not as he does.” Or maybe, “Zuck’s built a glass house, for us, and now he’s throwing stones.” Or just something sarcastic about how much Zuck values privacy.

There’s also, as others have mentioned, a grammatical error in the sentence. If we were talking about the scenario where the billionaire who started the competition has bowed out of it, I might say something like, “and Mr. Jones has just gone off to live in a cave,” or “but Mr. Jones has moved into a cave with a goatskin and some sticks.” Either of those gets across that Jones used to show off, but has stopped.

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It should be "Despite the fact the real Jones is living in a cave, most people just wanna keep up with the Joneses."

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