Cuppa Joe

Ahhhh, there’s nothing I enjoy more in the morning than a good cuppa joe.  It just starts my day off…  What’s that?  What’s a “cuppa joe”?  Sorry.  I was using American slang there.

A cuppa joe is a cup of coffee.  Americans have been calling coffee “joe” for many years.  Where did this come from?  Well, linguists aren’t sure, but some of them think it is a shortening—or corruption—of the word “jamocha,” which means coffee.

Lots of companies use “joe” in their coffee marketing.  My local Speedway gas station will sell you a commuter mug with “Joe” printed on the side; when you stop for refills with that mug, you get a discount on your coffee purchase.

Starbucks Coffee sponsors a morning talk show called “Morning Joe,” which features a political analyst named Joe Scarborough.  Notice the letter “o” in the logo looks like a circular stain left by your coffee mug on the table.

There’s a coffee mug with Vice President Joe Biden’s picture on it.  Hey, Joe, nice mug shot!

There’s even a Michigan coffee shop called Cuppa Joe.

So, now you’re wondering why is it spelled “cuppa”?  That’s because the word “of” in the expression “cup of coffee” isn’t very important—it’s only a preposition, after all—so Americans just mumble that word, and it sort of sounds like “uh.”

So, the next time your American coworkers invite you for a cuppa joe, just say thanks and go along with them.  Unless you’re a tea drinker.  Then you can order a cuppa tea.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.