Dear John letter

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For other uses, see Dear John (disambiguation).

A "Dear John letter" is a letter written to a husband or boyfriend by his significant other to inform him their relationship is over, usually because the author has found another lover.

Origin and etymology[edit]

While the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, it is commonly believed to have been coined by Americans during World War II. 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 a relationship with a new man rather than wait for the original one 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.

A writer in the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, NY, 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".[1]

An early reference to Dear John letters was made in a United Press article of March 21, 1944.[2]

It has been claimed that the Vietnam War inspired more Dear John letters than any other US conflict.[3]

Later, this type of letter formed background to the UK TV show Dear John, and a US sitcom of the same name.

A Dear Jane letter is a contemporary version of a Dear John letter addressed to a female lover.[4]


This term is also used to describe letters written in the context of employment, either to inform an applicant that they had not been selected for a job,[5][6][7] why employees had been separated from work,[8] or from an employee to their employer upon the employee quitting.[9]

Use in popular culture[edit]

The Taylor Swift song, "Dear John" from her Speak Now album describes an open letter to an ex-boyfriend (possibly the musician John Mayer, according to speculation) because of being manipulated and betrayed by them.

See also[edit]