wake up and smell the coffee


wake up and smell the coffee (idiom)


  • to recognize and accept the truth, particularly when it is inconvenient or unwelcome.
  • to become aware of the reality of a situation, especially one that is difficult or unpleasant.
  • to pay attention to what is actually happening rather than ignoring it or living in a fantasy.
  • to stop being naive or unrealistic and understand the facts or challenges at hand.
  • to become more alert and attentive to one’s surroundings or circumstances.

 Example Sentences

  1. You need to wake up and smell the coffee—our company is in serious trouble.
  2. He needs to wake up and smell the coffee; she’s never going to change her ways.
  3. It’s time for you to wake up and smell the coffee. You can’t keep spending money like this.
  4. Wake up and smell the coffee! The world is not as simple as you think.
  5. You need to wake up and smell the coffee; there are opportunities all around you.

Origin and History

The idiom “wake up and smell the coffee” suggests someone should become more aware of the reality of a situation or pay attention to what is happening around them. Both literal and metaphorical applications, specific advertising campaigns, and prominent public figures greatly influenced its popularity.

The idiom likely originates from the literal experience of waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, an aroma that encourages alertness and readiness for the day. This pleasant and invigorating sensory experience gradually took on a metaphorical meaning.

By the mid-20th century, the phrase had begun to be used metaphorically, suggesting that just as the smell of coffee can rouse someone from sleep, a figurative wake-up call can prompt someone to recognize and deal with the truth of a situation.

Advertising and Media

The phrase gained considerable popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly when Nescafe used it in their advertising campaign. Other big coffee brands, such as Maxwell House and Folgers, used similar phrases in their marketing. The campaign used the phrase to emphasize the invigorating and awakening qualities of coffee, thereby embedding the idiom into the public consciousness. The ads played on the dual meanings of physically waking up and becoming more aware of one’s surroundings.

Ann Landers’ Influence

The late advice columnist Ann Landers, whose real name was Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer, significantly contributed to the idiom’s widespread use. Known for her direct and practical advice, Landers often used the phrase “wake up and smell the coffee” in her columns to urge readers to confront reality and become more aware of their situations. Her wide readership and influence helped popularize the idiom in everyday language. Numerous newspapers syndicated Landers’ column, offering advice on a wide range of personal issues and establishing her as a household name and a trusted source of guidance for millions.

Wake up and smell the roses

The idiom has also inspired similar expressions, such as “wake up and smell the roses,” which carries a slightly different connotation of appreciating life’s beauty rather than confronting harsh realities. Both phrases share the underlying theme of increasing awareness and mindfulness.

Bottom Line

The idiom has its roots in the literal experience of waking up to the aroma of coffee, which evolved into a metaphor for becoming aware and attentive. Nescafé’s advertising campaign and advice columnist Ann Landers’ writings significantly boosted its popularity. The idiom’s journey from a literal sensory experience to a widely recognized metaphor highlights the interplay between language, culture, and media in shaping common expressions.

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