The work required to produce one watt of power for one second, or one watt-second (W⋅s) (compare kilowatt-hour, which is 3.6 megajoules). This relationship can be used to define the watt.
The joule is named after James Prescott Joule. As with every SI unit named for a person, its symbol starts with an upper case letter (J), but when written in full it follows the rules for capitalisation of a common noun; i.e., "joule" becomes capitalised at the beginning of a sentence and in titles, but is otherwise in lower case.
"Such a heat unit, if found acceptable, might with great propriety, I think, be called the Joule, after the man who has done so much to develop the dynamical theory of heat."
At the second International Electrical Congress, on 31 August 1889, the joule was officially adopted alongside the watt and the quadrant (later renamed to henry).
Joule died in the same year, on 11 October 1889.
At the fourth congress (1893), the "international ampere" and "international ohm" were defined, with slight changes in the specifications for their measurement, with the "international joule" being the unit derived from them.
The definition of the joule as J = kg⋅m2⋅s−2 has remained unchanged since 1946, but the joule as a derived unit has inherited changes in the definitions of the second (in 1960 and 1967), the metre (in 1983) and the kilogram (in 2019).
Nutritional food labels in most countries express energy in kilojoules (kJ). One square metre of the Earth receives about 1.4 kilojoules of solar radiation every second in full daylight. A human in a sprint has approximately 3 kJ of kinetic energy, while a cheetah in a 122 km/h (76 mph) sprint has approximately 20 kJ. One watt-hour of electricity is 3.6 kilojoules.
The megajoule is approximately the kinetic energy of a one megagram (tonne) vehicle moving at 161 km/h (100 mph). The energy required to heat 10 L of liquid water at constant pressure from 0 °C (32 °F) to 100 °C (212 °F) is approximately 4.2 MJ. One kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3.6 megajoules.
The zettajoule is somewhat more than the amount of energy required to heat the Baltic sea by 1 °C, assuming properties similar to those of pure water. Human annual world energy consumption is approximately 0.5 ZJ. The energy to raise the temperature of Earth's atmosphere 1 °C is approximately 2.2 ZJ.
The yottajoule is a little less than the amount of energy required to heat the Indian Ocean by 1 °C, assuming properties similar to those of pure water. The thermal output of the Sun is approximately 400 YJ per second.
A result of this similarity is that the SI unit for torque is the newton-metre, which works out algebraically to have the same dimensions as the joule, but they are not interchangeable. The General Conference on Weights and Measures has given the unit of energy the name joule, but has not given the unit of torque any special name, hence it is simply the newton-metre (N⋅m) – a compound name derived from its constituent parts. The use of newton-metres for torque and joules for energy is helpful to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications.
The distinction may be seen also in the fact that energy is a scalar quantity – the dot product of a force vector and a displacement vector. By contrast, torque is a vector – the cross product of a force vector and a distance vector. Torque and energy are related to one another by the equation
where E is energy, τ is (the vector magnitude of) torque, and θ is the angle swept (in radians). Since plane angles are dimensionless, it follows that torque and energy have the same dimensions.
A watt-second (symbol W s or W⋅s) is a derived unit of energy equivalent to the joule. The watt-second is the energy equivalent to the power of one watt sustained for one second. While the watt-second is equivalent to the joule in both units and meaning, there are some contexts in which the term "watt-second" is used instead of "joule", such as in the rating of photographic electronic flash units. 
^The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition (1985). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., p. 691.
^McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Physics, Fifth Edition (1997). McGraw-Hill, Inc., p. 224.
^"The unit of heat has hitherto been taken variously as the heat required to raise a pound of water at the freezing-point through 1° Fahrenheit or Centigrade, or, again, the heat necessary to raise a kilogramme of water 1° Centigrade. The inconvenience of a unit so entirely arbitrary is sufficiently apparent to justify the introduction of one based on the electro-magnetic system, viz. the heat generated in one second by the current of an Ampère flowing through the resistance of an Ohm. In absolute measure its value is 107 C.G.S. units, and, assuming Joule's equivalent as 42,000,000, it is the heat necessary to raise 0.238 grammes of water 1° Centigrade, or, approximately, the 1⁄1000th part of the arbitrary unit of a pound of water raised 1° Fahrenheit and the 1⁄4000th of the kilogramme of water raised 1° Centigrade. Such a heat unit, if found acceptable, might with great propriety, I think, be called the Joule, after the man who has done so much to develop the dynamical theory of heat."Carl Wilhelm Siemens, Report of the Fifty-Second Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. S. 6 f.
^ ab"Units with special names and symbols; units that incorporate special names and symbols". International Bureau of Weights and Measures. Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2015. A derived unit can often be expressed in different ways by combining base units with derived units having special names. Joule, for example, may formally be written newton metre, or kilogram metre squared per second squared. This, however, is an algebraic freedom to be governed by common sense physical considerations; in a given situation some forms may be more helpful than others. In practice, with certain quantities, preference is given to the use of certain special unit names, or combinations of unit names, to facilitate the distinction between different quantities having the same dimension.