wake up and smell the coffee

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Probably a humorous elaboration of wake up (to become more aware of a real-life situation; to concentrate on the matter in hand), alluding to the fact that coffee is often consumed at breakfast time after waking up in the morning. The term was popularized by the American writer Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer (1918–2002), who used the pen name Ann Landers, in the syndicated newspaper advice column Ask Ann Landers.[1]


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈweɪk ʌp n̩ ˈsmɛl ðə ˈkɒfi/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈweɪk ˌʌp n̩ ˈsmɛl ðə ˈkɔfi/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɒfi (one pronunciation)
  • Hyphenation: wake up and smell the cof‧fee


wake up and smell the coffee (third-person singular simple present wakes up and smells the coffee, present participle waking up and smelling the coffee, simple past woke up and smelled the coffee or woke up and smelt the coffee, past participle woken up and smelled the coffee or woken up and smelt the coffee)

  1. (idiomatic, US, informal) Often in the infinitive or imperative: to face reality and stop deluding oneself.
    Synonyms: open one's eyes, take the hint, (rare) wake up and smell the ashes, wake up and smell the decaf, wake up and smell the roses
    • 1927 June 4, Purist [pseudonym], “Smelling the coffee [letter]”, in John S[hivley] Knight, editor, Akron Beacon Journal, number 157, Akron, Oh.: Beacon Journal Co., →OCLC, page 4, column 5:
      Your paper gains "notice" as an example of the use of English as it should not be written nor spoken. Wake up and smell the coffee.
    • 1943 January 18, Guy Finamore, “Rationing dept.”, in Chicago Daily Tribune, volume CII, number 15, Chicago, Ill.: Wheeler, Stewart & Scripps, →OCLC, page 17, column 2:
      A few years back, when a wife told her husband to "wake up and smell the coffee," it usually was said in utter derision. Now, when there is coffee to smell, she shouts it to him in supreme delight.
    • 1970 November 29, Ann Landers [pseudonym; Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer], “Wake up, smell the coffee”, in The News & Observer, volume CC, number 152, Raleigh, N.C.: News & Observer Pub. Co., →ISSN, →OCLC, section III (Today’s Woman), page 20, column 4:
      Wake up and smell the coffee, Dummy. You're a comfort station on a back-street detour. Send him on his way.
    • 1997 October, Joanna Elm, chapter 6, in Delusion, 1st mass market edition, New York, N.Y.: Tor Books, published January 1999, →ISBN, page 51:
      Dear God, was she going to look at everybody who owned a truck with this sort of suspicion? “Come on, Heskell. Wake up and smell the coffee. They've become the singles bars of the nineties. []
    • 2000, Jane Smiley, “Breeders’ Cup”, in Horse Heaven, 1st trade paperback edition, New York, N.Y.: Ballantine Books, published 2001, →ISBN, book 2 (1998), page 319:
      He had opened his eyes, which was what his first wife was always telling him to do—open your eyes, Al, wake up and smell the coffee—and seen that Rosalind was at least as unhappy as he was, []



Further reading[edit]

  • Pascal Tréguer (2019 April 4) “Meaning and Early Instances of ‘To Wake Up and Smell the Coffee’”, in Word Histories[1], archived from the original on 7 January 2021.