Quick Takes: Why Coffee is Nicknamed Joe

Etymology is the study of the history of words. I’m no language expert, but uncovering the origin of words and phrases—especially common slang—can be really fun.

Some time ago I was sipping a cup of coffee and wondered why “joe” was such a common name for the drink. Turns out, the nickname is relatively new1:

As it turns out, the use of joe as slang for coffee dates to the World War I era. It was then that Daniels, who started his career as a newspaper publisher in North Carolina, became secretary of the Navy under president Woodrow Wilson. As recounted in a new biography, Daniels tried to imbue the navy with a strict morality. He increased the number of chaplains, discouraged prostitution at naval bases, and, most controversially, banned the consumption of alcohol.

“As a substitute, stewards increased their purchases of coffee, among other beverages,” writes Lee Craig in the new book, “and Daniels’s name became linked to the daily drink of millions around the world. A cup of coffee became disparagingly known as ‘a cup of Joseph Daniels,’ and as legend has it, this was soon shortened to a ‘cup of Joe.’”

1. Read the full article about coffee being called “joe” on Quartz’s website.

Published by


Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

Leave a Reply