I have been requested to find out where the phrase ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ originated. Wow! Can opened, worms everywhere. It is really a hot topic where a number of people seemingly coined the phrase, including Ann Landers. That beats the second best, ‘wake up and smell the burnt bacon’ coined by Alice from the Brady Bunch.
Seriously, this is far more difficult than it seems. There’s even one that says,’ wake up and smell the decaf’. ￼￼ another that says wake up and smell the tea. I know! Here are some of the things I recovered:
￼“SMELLING THE COFFEE”
Editor Beacon Journal:
In this evening’s edition of your paper the statement is made that a woman black-mailer “gained prominence” through filing a breach of promise suit.
Also that she had twice attempted to commit suicide and had finally succeeded.
Allow me to request that you look into the use of the word “prominence” in connection with such a person and such a life.
Rather think you will find that “notorious” and “notoriety” are the correct words to use.
Prominence refers to high-principled worth-while deeds and accomplishments. Lindbergh, for instance, gained prominence and fame.
This unfortunate woman moron gained notoriety.
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.
How rude and horrible it’s that??
Another example: ‘￼￼The second-earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from A Home Talk BaseballLeague Umpire Writes In His Worries, by Eric Wroldsen, published in Lou E. Cohen’s column Sport Chats, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle(Brooklyn, New York) of Wednesday 18 July 1934:
“To sum up some of the remarks heard from the sidelines when not immune would fill this column—but the most prevalent and popular ones seem to be, ‘Oh, you robber!’ ‘Give him the hook!’ and ‘Wake up and smell the coffee.’”
There are many more examples so the fact is, there’s no one answer to the question. In today’s day and age I think it means to really see what’s happening in a particular circumstance when a person is about to do something stupid. ￼ I know I’ve heard it many times in my life. Wait a minute. That means I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. I’m going to have to think about that and get back to you.