We recently celebrated National Joe Day, and we took a moment to celebrate Joe, the average Joe, G.I. Joe, Joe Blow, and especially, a cup of Joe. But, it is often asked just where the term “joe” comes from when referring to that heavenly nectar coffee. The prevailing myth claims that in 1914, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus “Joe” Daniels, appointed by President Wilson, banned all U.S. Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages with his General Order 99. Rather than stage a rum revolt, the sailors turned to the next strongest drink on board, coffee! Since Daniels was the one responsible for the alcohol ban thus “forcing” everyone to switch to coffee, the sailors nicknamed the drink after Josephus Daniels and coffee came to be known as “a cup of joe,” or that is how the story goes.
However, after much investigation fueled by joe and with help from Snopes, the prevailing myth is purely that, a myth. Prior to 1914 and General Order 99, US Navy ships were not free flowing with alcohol and intoxicated sailors as the ships on which they served had been officially dry since the spirit ration was abolished in 1862, according to Snopes. Officers, although, were affected by General Order 99 as they had access to a “wine mess” from 1893 until the order put an end to it in 1914. Nonetheless, since the phrase “cup of joe” is not said to have entered the English language until 1930, 16 years after General Order 99 ended imbibing by officers, it is unlikely that, if the term “joe” was widely used aboard naval ships, there isn’t one recording of such that has come to light.
Other theories on the origin of “cup of joe” do exist, but as with all good mysteries, none can be verified with absolute certainty. Perhaps since “joe” is slang for the everyman, a fellow, the common man, a “cup of joe” naturally arose as being the beverage that fuels the common man?
The most likely, and unfortunately the least dramatic, is explained by linguist Michael Quinion. Joe might possibly just be a variation on two other words for coffee: java and jamoke -jamoke is derived from the combination of java and mocha. Quinion notes that an early example of using “joe” for coffee appears in 1931 in the Reserve Officer’s Manual by a man named Erdman. Erdman writes, “Jamoke, Java, Joe. Coffee. Derived from the words Java and Mocha, where originally the best coffee came from.”
No matter what you call it: joe, java, jamoke, brew, mud, café, we will always call it our life blood and our reason for waking in the morning. We are proud to honor our passion for coffee and celebrate National Joe Day, cups of and otherwise.
Mikkelson, Barbara. “Cup of Joe.” Snopes. Urban Legends Reference Pages. 5 February 2009. Web. 12 March 2014. www.snopes.com/language/eponyms/cupofjoe.asp
Quinion, Michael. “Joe.” World Wide Words, Investigating the English language across the globe.Michael Quinion. 27 December 2003. Web. 12 March 2014. www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa- joe1.htm