Why Do We Call It Joe?

For as long as I can remember, a cup of “joe” has designated a cup of coffee. And not just any coffee. It always had this everyman connotation, a strong cup of black coffee served piping hot, probably old, probably burnt from sitting on a heating element; it’s the coffee of yesteryear. Though once widely used, the etymology of “joe” remains a relative mystery, but a recent article in Readers Digest offers the leading theories on the term’s origins.

The first theory starts in the U.S. Navy:

As one legend goes, it all started with Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy during World War I. In 1914, he banned alcohol consumption on all U.S. Navy ships. Because coffee was the next strongest substitute, American sailors sarcastically deemed it “a cup of Josephus.” The snarky name stuck, although it came to be known as “a cup of Joe” for short.

But according to the article, this origin story is an unlikely one. Referring to a Snopes article on the subject, Readers Digest notes that the term “cup of joe” was coined in 1930, 16 years after the Navy’s prohibition. Given the time gap, ole Josephus is an unlikely muse.

More likely theories include “joe” being a truncation of “jamoke”—a portmanteau of java and mocha—and simply a slang term for “guy” or “fellow” as a means of expressing this is a drink for the common person.

The actual origins of the term “joe” may never be certain, so we all just need to pick our favorite and run with it.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

*top image via Digital Trends


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