For most of us, coffee is a good friend (to some people, perhaps a best friend!).
And like any friend, we’ve given it a few nicknames—battery acid, bean juice, brain juice, brew, A Cup of Juan Valdez’s Best, java, jitter juice, jet fuel, morning mud, liquid energy—the list goes on and on. But if one name had to stand out from the rest, it has to be “Cup of Joe”. Cup of Joe is, without a doubt, the nickname that comes to mind when it comes to coffee. But where did this term come from?
Was there a guy named Joe who made really good coffee? Or is “Joe” a bizarre shortened version of Java? In short, we don’t know. No one does for sure. The origin of the term is as cloudy as creamer. Thankfully, the thorough folks at Snopes.com did some research.
Cup of Joe Origin
Here are the three leading theories on the origins of the term “Cup of Joe”.
- Secretary of the Navy in 1913, Josephus Daniels, prohibited alcohol aboard naval vessels leading to more coffee consumption.
- It’s a shortened version of two other slang terms for coffee: java and jamoke.
- Coffee is considered “a common man” drink and Joe is considered “a common man” name.
It’s a Navy Thing
Some theorize that it all started in 1913 when Josephus Daniels was appointed secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. As the story goes, on June 1, 1914, Secretary Joe issued General Order 99. Order 99 prohibited alcohol aboard naval vessels. From then on, the strongest drink of any kind allowed on naval ships has been coffee. The presumably disgruntled and sober sailors weren’t happy with the changes, so they started to call coffee a “cup of Joe” out of spite.
It seems convincing, but is it true? At one point in the Navy’s history, sailors were given a daily ration of rum. However, this ration was banned prior to the issuance of order 99. The servicemen who were greatly affected by Order 99 were naval officers, who had the privilege of accessing or creating their own “wine messes” from 1893 until Order 99 came into effect in 1914.
Combining Words to Reach “Joe”
English language researchers lean more on the overall language behind the term “cup of Joe” than the military tale. The earliest known entrance of “cup of Joe” into the English language lexicon wasn’t until 1930, 16 years after Order 99. The first of the two theories is that “Joe” is a bizarre shortened version of two other slang terms for coffee: java and jamoke. Jamoke itself is another combination slang word: java and mocha. Listen to any teenage girl talk and you’ll be able to tell how it was shortened from “cup of jamoke” to “cup of Joe”.
The Common Man’s Drink
The second theory focuses on the name “Joe”. Joe is a slang name for “the common man”. The first usage of “Joe” in this instance had appeared in English lexicon around 1846. Hence, a “cup of Joe” is the “common man’s drink”.
So what’s true?
Of these three theories, the second, a shortening of “jamoke”, seems to be the truest due in part to research done by British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion. According to Quinion, early examples of this type of usage were found in 1931 in the Reserve Officer’s Manual by a man named Erdman.
So where did the term “cup of Joe” come from? We’re not 100% sure. But that’s not what is really important. The important thing is that we can serve up a few thousand cup of Joes every year to our smiling customers.