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What Is an Average Joe?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2016
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“Average Joe” is a common American expression describing a hypothetical average American male. Similar expressions include “John Q. Public,” “Joe Sixpack,” and “Joe Bloggs,” the last of which is commonly used in England and other English-speaking nations. The average American woman is sometimes called “average Jane” or similar phrases. The phrases are similar to placeholder names such as “John Doe,” but with more of an emphasis on the middle class or working class. Many titles, slogans, and jokes have played on the phrase “average Joe.”

Placeholder names like “John Doe” and “Jane Roe” have been used by British legal authorities since the 17th century. Such names were required by English law when discussing a subject who was hypothetical or anonymous. In the 20th century, U.S. news and entertainment media began using similar phrases when describing the practices and desires of the typical American. The names “John” and “Joe” were frequently used because they are common and informal, suggesting a friend or neighbor. Names such as “John Q. Public,” “Joe Blow,” and “Joe Shmoe” were soon used for this purpose by the public at large.

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In England, Australia, and New Zealand, the average Joe is given names such as Joe Bloggs and Joe Soap. “Joe Soap” originated with British rhyming slang, in which a word or name is substituted for another word that rhymes with it; only a person who knows the slang will understand the reference. Joe Soap, which rhymes with dope, originally meant an unintelligent person, but has since come to mean any average British man. Joe Bloggs was in use in England long before the current meaning of “blog” as an Internet journal.

The average Joe will be neither wealthy nor impoverished, but somewhere near the middle class financially. In America and other nations, there is a certain pride and honor in coming from a working-class or middle-class background. Many political and commercial campaigns have been geared to appeal to the average Joe. The hypothetical average American woman is often described as “Jane,” probably because of the resemblance to the name “Joe” rather than because it is particularly common.

During the 2000s, the reality TV series Average Joe and Joe Millionaire used their titles to indicate their subjects were average Americans rather than models or actual millionaires. In the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, an activist calling himself Joe the Plumber tried to establish himself as an archetype of the average American. His argument was that if he approved of his candidate’s policies, other so-called average Americans should do the same. An independent candidate with the first name of Joe, meanwhile, campaigned for a presidential nomination in the same election, promoting himself under the slogan “Average Joe.”

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