A “cup of joe” is one of the most common nicknames for coffee and frankly, one of the more troubling. There isn’t a real definitive answer to this question and even Oxford’s dictionary tells us that the source of the slang term is simply “unknown.” Luckily inquiring minds have theory crafted and come up with some plausible answers.
Let’s look at four of these theories and you can decide which is the most plausible for you.
The Four Theories of Joe
1. Admiral Josephus “Joe” Daniels (1862 – 1948)
Admiral Joe Daniels was appointed secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. On July 1, 1914 the ships of the U.S. navy became dry under General Order No. 99.
“The use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station, is strictly prohibited, and commanding officers will be held directly responsible for the enforcement of this order”
The admiral was already quite unpopular among those in the services and this situation was no different. It’s said that since the policy resulted in a dry ship, the disgruntled seamen decided to refer to their coffee as a “cup of joe” as a way to insult the Admiral indirectly.
Although it should be noted that these actions were already in motion. In 1899 it was prohibited to sell alcohol to enlisted men either on the ship or in the navy yards. Needless to say the nail in the coffin on July 1st wasn’t well received but it’s unlikely that Admiral Daniels was the reason for the slang. Especially since the prohibition of alcohol on board Naval Vessels was already in motion in 1899, 15 years earlier.
2. Martison Coffee or Joe’s Coffee
Joe Martison came to New York City in the late 1800s. His coffee experience came from roasting coffee in his Mother’s kitchen and selling the beans from a pushcart. Joe opened a small factory and began selling to hotels and restaurants. The term “cup of joe” was actually trademarked by Martison Coffee and became widely used in the 1930s.
3. The Average Joe
Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages globally. It unites people regardless of their social class or status. Just like every other routine caffeine team player out there, we’re all “average joes.”
Back in the 50s and 60s every other buster (my grandfather’s nickname) walking into a diner orders what the other Joe Schmo, Ordinary Joe, Joe Sixpack, Joe Lunchbucket, G.I. Joe, Joe Blow gets, a cup of Joe.
4. Java + Mocha = Joe or Jamoke
During the 1930s, java and mocha were becoming popular terms used for coffee. These terms were combined to form Jamoke. Linguists believe that the term was then shortened to just be “Joe.” It’s not unrealistic to think this happened considering this is how many familiar phrases have been formed.
Like I said before, it’s still up for debate where the term came from. All four of these theories are thrown around as the possible origin story. What we know for certain is the term was first recorded dating back to the 1930s and is still used to this day.
What do you think is the most plausible theory?