no coffee, no workee

What exactly does this expression mean? And how do you pronounce it?

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    It's just a jocular catchphrase sometimes printed on the "personalised coffee mugs" people keep in the office. All it means is "If this cup isn't regularly filled with coffee, I will not work". Personally I think it's potentially offensive to people from the Far East, so I wouldn't promote it. – FumbleFingers Apr 3 '14 at 18:07
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    As @FumbleFingers inferred, it's potentially offensive to people from the Far East. That's because it is a take-off on an expression that had been used to sound like someone at a Chinese laundry..."no tickee, no washee!", which meant that without a ticket, you could not pick up your laundry. – Kristina Lopez Apr 3 '14 at 18:25
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    @FumbleFingers, because it's an exact replacement in meaning..."no (incentive), no (reward)". Your 2nd example is just another example of a stereotype of an Asian (prostitute in that case). They're only alike in that they're stereotypes. (You're so naughty!) – Kristina Lopez Apr 3 '14 at 18:32
  • @FumbleFingers As a Westerner I find "love you long time" offensive. I believe the standard is "short time" and I would hate to have to suffer attempts at upselling because of my race. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 3 '14 at 18:57
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    @FumbleFingers..."typical ignorant colonial" meaning one of us Yanks? – Kristina Lopez Apr 3 '14 at 21:52

It may be a take-off on an expression that had been used to sound like someone at a Chinese laundry..."no tickee, no washee!", which meant that without a ticket, you could not pick up your laundry. So "no coffee, no workee" means that without the coffee, you'll get no work.

This original expression that mimics Chinese Pidgin English, spoken by early Chinese immigrants, gained further notoriety after a 1921 silent movie was released, entitled, "No Tickee, No Shirtee".

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    Regardless of the origin, I don't think current usage is intended to refer to any old stereotype, any more than No shirt, no shoes, no service or No jaw-jaw, only war-war is. I would not ascribe racist motivations to the producer or owner of the mug. – choster Apr 3 '14 at 18:52
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    @KristinaLopez No coffee, no workee is childlike. It's cute. It's playful. It's exactly the kind of thing I'd put on a coffee mug. No coffee, no work is rather prosaic, and even a little confrontational. It's whine-whine without rhyme-rhyme. – choster Apr 3 '14 at 19:03
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    @choster, you can attribute child-like qualities to the saying if you want but I don't know many children that speak Chinese Pidgin English. Try looking it up instead of just arguing about it. :-) – Kristina Lopez Apr 3 '14 at 19:14
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    @Mynamite. I totally agree also that it's a play on words - and it stands on its own now. I was only trying to make the point that it didn't appear out of a vacuum. It has a history that fortunately is not popular any longer. – Kristina Lopez Apr 3 '14 at 19:18
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    @KristinaLopez: "No coffee, no workee" has a nice rhyme, lyrical cadence, a child-like tone, and is non-threatening. "No coffee, no work" is harsher, abrasive even. The first feels like a joke about how important coffee is, while the second seems like a threat of work stoppage. – Andrew Coonce Apr 3 '14 at 21:00

"-ie" or "-y" is sometimes used as a suffix to denote childish speech. In this case the same sound has been written as "-ee" in order to match the ending of "coffee".

So it just means "Without coffee I can't work." But expressed in a childish way to imply reduced ability to think due to lack of caffeine.

  • 1
    @KristinaLopez: you keep repeating that as if it were irrefutable truth, but the fact that smithkm, Motes, and many other people (including me) just thought it was simple playful rhyming proves that it can and does arise as, well, simple playful rhyming. – Marthaª Apr 4 '14 at 15:26
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    @Marthaª, comments aside, which I already explained how they came to be, since this site is supposed to be for supported answers, you can't argue with the fact that mine does have historical precedence. The fact that others see it is as playful rhyming, though not untrue, is without any cited source. – Kristina Lopez Apr 4 '14 at 15:51
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    @KristinaLopez: why on earth would I need to cite a source for my experience? And the very fact that I was able to have that experience disproves your assertion. You're saying that "x always derives from y", while I'm saying that "I came up with x, and I've never heard of y, so obviously x does not always derive from y". – Marthaª Apr 4 '14 at 16:04
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    @Marthaª, unless you designed the coffee cup with that saying, you didn't "come up" with that expression. This is a question and answer site. I answered a question with some historical background suggesting that it is the source of the OP's referenced expression. You're perfectly welcome to like it or not - and if not, to provide cited evidence of another source of that expression. :-) – Kristina Lopez Apr 4 '14 at 16:10
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    @Kristina, I have provided cited evidence of another source of that expression: it rhymes. It sounds cutesy. QED. Or to put it another way: you didn't design that cup either, so you can't know what was going through the design person's head. Your interpretation is no more likely than mine, yours is just, well, meaner. Less PC. Ascribing malice where ignorance would suffice. – Marthaª Apr 4 '14 at 16:17

It's a play on words. Coffee is usually pronounced 'coffy' but here, to emphasis the play, both words would have the 'ee' ending as in 'feet'.

Used by those who cannot function without their coffee, it means:

Give me a cup of coffee or I'm not going to work for you

Or, more politely

I'm just going to make myself a cup of coffee and then I'll be happy to do some work

  • Mynamite, what exactly is the pronunciation difference between "coffy" and "coffee"? Do you really pronounce "coffee" on its own differently than the "coffee" in "no workee no coffee"? Personally, I don't see how that's possible... – Marthaª Apr 4 '14 at 15:31
  • @Marthaª I tried to describe it in my 1st sentence but maybe I didn't explain it well. I pronounce coffee with a short final 'i' sound, like fluffy or puffy. But with 'no coffee no workee' I would emphasise the final long -ee. I can't explain why, I just would - because it's playful and there's no such word as 'worky/workee' – Mynamite Apr 5 '14 at 19:48

It means one cannot concentrate on work without having coffee.

  • That is a possible interpretation, but it can also suggest I refuse to even attempt to work unless I have coffee. – choster Apr 3 '14 at 19:37
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    Yes that can also be a point but when you look at reality it is hyperbole. One cannot concentrate on work but nobody quits or don't work all all without coffee. – vrindamarfatia Apr 3 '14 at 20:51

It is a Chris Farleyian way to say "I cannot work (function) without coffee." I would pronounce it using this voice.

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