Friday, December 14, 2012

Where did the term "cup of joe" come from?

Today, the phrase "cup of joe" is just another way of saying "cup of coffee." In fact, there is even a coffee shop called Cup o' Joe. The phrase first appeared in print around 1930 and has since popularized. Though the exact origin of the phrase is unknown, there are three common theories that purport to have the answer. The first theory suggests that "cup of joe" is a byproduct of the 1860 song "Old Black Joe" by Stephen Foster. Given that the song fails to mention coffee and that the phrase "cup of joe" did not appear in print until 70 years later, this theory is likely not true.

The second theory holds that the phrase appeared as a result of the 1914 ban of officers' wine messes on U.S. naval ships imposed by admiral Josephus "Joe" Daniels. Since wine messes were no longer available on naval ships, officers would turn to coffee as a substitute. Accordingly, the theory holds, coffee became known as '"joe" after the man who, though indirectly, popularized it. This theory faces similar problems as the first: the ban on officer wine messes occurred prior to 1930 and, more importantly, the 1914 ban only eliminated wine messes for officers, having little effect on the coffee consumption of non-officer seamen who, since 1862, had faced a ban of alcohol on naval ships.

The third and most tenable theory holds that "joe" is derived from "java" or "jamoke," two common substitutes for "coffee" around 1930. The word "jamoke"was already a combination of java and mocha, so why not shorten it to "joe"?

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