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I knew that Joe was used to mean the average man, and I discovered that joe is used to mean also coffee.

  • What is the origin of such meanings?
  • When it is used to mean the average man, should I understand that Joe is/was the most common name?
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Michael Quinion at World Wide Words claims that the use of joe for coffee first appeared in print in 1930. He agrees it's of unknown origin, but outlines two of the more prevalent theories before concluding it's most likely a military-slang modification of other j-words for coffee:

It is significant that an early example appears in 1931 in the Reserve Officer’s Manual by a man named Erdman: “Jamoke, Java, Joe. Coffee. Derived from the words Java and Mocha, where originally the best coffee came from”.

The earliest print reference I could find was from Eugene O'Brien's 1937 naval novel He Swung and He Missed:


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My Webster's lists joe as

  1. coffee. [ORIGIN: 1940s: of unknown origin.]
  2. an ordinary man : the average joe. [ORIGIN: mid 19th cent.: nickname for the given name Joseph; compare with Joe Blow .]

Etymonline concurs.

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It seems interesting that Webster says the origin is 1940, and dictionary.com (to which Etymonline has a link for joe) reports the origin is 1840-1850. – kiamlaluno Feb 7 '11 at 10:47
@kiamlaluno: Look more closely. Webster's and Etymonline agree that the coffee meaning is from the 1940s and the "ordinary man" sense is from the mid-19th century. What's your issue? – Robusto Feb 7 '11 at 11:16
I don't have any issues at all. dictionary.com reports that the origin of joe to mean coffee is 1840-1850. As I thought I reached that page through a link on Etymonline (which is not what I did), I found interesting Etymonline would report a date, and have a link to a page that reports a different date. I didn't mean in any way to express a judgement about your answer. Still, I find interesting dictionary.com reports a different date. – kiamlaluno Feb 7 '11 at 12:29
Etymonline has a link to the Dictionary.com definition of joe. The link is show in Etymonline as an icon placed after the word joe. Etymonline says the origin is 1941, and it links to another site that reports 1840-1850 as origin of the same word. – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '11 at 12:50

Seemingly NOT from the Secretary of Navy: http://www.snopes.com/language/eponyms/cupofjoe.asp

My personal guess is java -> joe

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=joe "coffee," 1941, of unknown origin. Meaning "generic fellow, man" is from 1846, from the pet-form of Joseph (q.v.). Joe college "typical college man" is from 1932. Joe Blow "average fellow" is U.S. military slang, first recorded 1941.

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Some name must be chosen to fill the role. Tom, Dick and Harry lend a hand too, not to mention John Doe.

"Average Joe" is a phrase (limited in age by the prevalance of algebra education?) but can the term "Joe" be used alone in this sense at all?

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In Joe Sixpack, the word average doesn't appear. – kiamlaluno Feb 7 '11 at 9:32
@Kiam: It is not used with "average," but neither is it used alone. It is an idiomatic phrase. – Potatoswatter Feb 7 '11 at 18:07
No, because by itself it's just a name, it needs some sort of adjective or descriptor to signify it's being used in a more abstract sense. – Abernasty Jan 31 '14 at 21:45

I believe Joe came from Spanish or Latin-American languages. The latest borrowed it from ancient Slavic word pronounced very similar both in Spanish and Slavic languages.

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They are probably only concerned with modern English here, not about its derivation or Sanskrit roots. – PerformanceDBA Feb 13 '11 at 13:03
@PerformanceDBA, I infected you with non-DBMS and non-6NF areas? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 15 '11 at 16:43
More "activated" a latent interest, rather than "infected" which is introducing something that was not there. Generally, yes. – PerformanceDBA Feb 17 '11 at 7:24
@GennadyVaninNovosibirsk - Are you trolling with this answer? The OP asks why coffee is "joe", and you explain that it comes from the rudest word for "penis"? Tell me you're not serious. – MT_Head Feb 28 '14 at 4:57

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