A Cup of Joe – A History of the Term

The term ‘a cup of Joe’ is something that has become a widespread and well-known slang for a cup of coffee in the USA, and as a result of the globalisation of culture. These days it is a positive term in which to describe your morning beverage, but there is debate as to how the term came about, and whether it was meant well in the first place.

Theory 1 – On the 1st June 1914 the Secretary of the US Navy, Josephus “Joe” Daniels, imposed a general ban on alcohol being served aboard US Navy Ships through Order 99. Coffee then became the strongest drink available on board ships and a ‘cup of joe’ was used as a negative term.

Theory 2 – Another two slang terms used to describe coffee are java and jamoke (java and mocha), with a cup of joe thought to be the shortening again of jamoke. The development of slang terms has changed the original name of many a product.

Theory 3 – The term ‘Joe’ is something that has been used to denote a nice, common guy throughout the use of English language. A ‘cup of joe’ could therefore be a beverage that gives fuel to the common man.

The first theory doesn’t hold up due to the fact that most navy ships had been dry since the spirit ration in 1862, whilst the term itself only became popular in the 1930s. It is an interesting story to put behind the creation of a popular term, but it is more likely that theory 2 is the genuine reason behind a cup of Joe, as language does evolve all the time, with different slang terms from one generation to the next.