Dear John letter

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A Dear John letter is a letter written to a man by his wife or romantic partner to inform him that their relationship is over, usually because his partner has found another lover. The man is often a member of the military stationed overseas, although the letter may be used in other ways, including being left for him to discover when he returns from work to an emptied house. It is usually sent after time-away on holiday.

Origin and etymology[edit]

While the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, the most likely origin dates back to the 1862 poem No, thank you, John by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti.[1] More specifically, the female protagonist Alice Vavasor in Anthony Trollope's 1864 novel Can You Forgive Her?, composes just such a letter to her soon to be spurned lover John Grey. It is commonly believed to have been coined by Americans during World War II. "John" was the most popular and common baby name for boys in America every single year from 1880 through 1923,[2] making it a reasonable placeholder name when denoting those of age for military service. Large numbers of American troops were stationed overseas for many months or years, and as time passed many of their wives or girlfriends decided to begin relationships with new men, rather than to wait for the soldiers to return.

As letters to servicemen from wives or girlfriends back home would typically contain affectionate language (such as "Dear Johnny", "My dearest John", or simply "Darling"), a serviceman receiving a note beginning with a curt "Dear John" would instantly be aware of the letter's purpose.[3]

A writer in the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York, summed it up in August 1945:

"Dear John," the letter began. "I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce," it said. They usually began like that, those letters that told of infidelity on the part of the wives of servicemen... The men called them "Dear Johns".[3]

An early reference to Dear John letters was made in a United Press article of March 21, 1944.[4] It has been claimed that the Vietnam War inspired more Dear John letters than any other U.S. conflict.[5] Later, this type of letter formed the background to the British television show Dear John, and the American sitcom of the same name.[citation needed]

When written to a female lover, the letter is referred to as a Dear Jane letter in contemporary usage.[3] The changing role of women in the US armed forces created, during the Iraq War, the possibility of female soldiers being posted overseas for extensive periods while their partners were left behind.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Christina Rossetti – "No, thank you, John"". Genius. Retrieved 2021-07-12.
  2. ^ "Popular Baby Names". Retrieved 2021-07-12.
  3. ^ a b c Quinion, Michael (13 Dec 2003). "Dear John letter". World Wide Words. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  4. ^ Hollywood Girls Gain Weight on Tour of Africa St. Petersburg Times, March 21, 1944.
  5. ^ Gross, Chuck (2006). Rattler One-Seven: A Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's War Story. University of North Texas Press. p. 173. ISBN 9781574412215.