The Man Named Josephus: Why We Call Coffee "A Cup of Joe"

Food History

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Have you ever wondered why the slang term for coffee is a cup of joe? The phrase has been in use since World War I, but the original term, coined by sailors in the Navy, was actually a cup of Joseph Daniels. And it was meant as an insult.

Josephus Daniels was secretary to the Navy under president Woodrow Wilson. Looking to impose stricter moral standards on naval life, he made changes like increasing the number of chaplains, cracking down on prostitution at naval bases and banning alcohol. In his biography of Daniels, author Lee Craig explains how this last decision led to the creation of the slang term.

“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.’”

Read more: Why coffee is called "joe" at Quartz

Do you know any other tidbits about how famous foods got their names? Share them in the comments!

(Image: National Library of Scotland/flickr)