There are many theories on where the term “A Cup of Joe” came from. But as we hold coffee near and dear to our hearts, we decided to explore these a bit more.
It maybe a wise-tail but say hello to Josephus Daniels, former secretary of the US Navy and possibly namesake of the proverbial “cup of joe”.
Joe is, of course, short for Joseph. And in American English, “joe” can refer to an average guy, a soldier, or—somewhat strangely—coffee, but we will get into that later on.
As it turns out, the use of joe as slang for coffee dates to the World War I era. It was then that Daniels, who started his career as a newspaper publisher in North Carolina, became secretary of the Navy under president Woodrow Wilson. Daniels tried to imbue the navy with a strict morality. He increased the number of chaplains, discouraged prostitution at naval bases, and, most controversially, banned the consumption of alcohol.
As a substitute, stewards increased their purchases of coffee, among other beverages, and Daniels, who was not too popular, became linked to the daily drink of millions around the world. A cup of coffee became disparagingly known as ‘a cup of Joseph Daniels,’ and as legend has it, this was soon shortened to a ‘cup of Joe.’
The challenge was that during WWI, alcohol was not as easily attained as one would believe it would have been. Officers were the only personnel that had access to alcohol, specifically wine. So the impact on the Navy consumption of Alcohol would have been minimal.
The next theory asserts that “joe” is a corruption of one of two other slang words for coffee: java and jamoke, the latter itself a compression of java and mocha. Under that theory, a “cup of jamoke” could easily have slip-slid its way into being a “cup of joe.” Even though people love to shorten their words into slang, this again, is highly improvable.
The last postulates that since “joe” is argot for a “fellow, guy, chap” (the earliest sighting of its being used that way dates to 1846), that a “cup of joe” thus means the common man’s drink. The lexicon of English is replete with instances of “joe” being used to denote a typical guy who is wholly interchangeable with any other guy in the same line of work or area of special interest: “G.I. Joe,” “Holy Joe” (a chaplain or especially sanctimonious person), “Joe College,” “Joe Blow,” and of course “the average joe.” “Cup of joe” therefore would be the stuff that fuels the common man.
Thankfully, for the worlds most popular beverage the theoretical origin of “A Cup of Joe” did not slow down it’s progress to make it’s way into each and every household in the US. But for us, we like to say have a nice cup of Java Joe’s coffee, it’s just who we are.