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Dear John letter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.

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. "John" was the most popular and common baby name for boys in the United States every year from 1880 through 1923,[1] 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 wait for the soldiers to return. One of the earliest notable Dear John letters was written by Agnes von Kurowsky to Ernest Hemingway in 1919.[2]

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

A mid-war reference to Dear John letters was made in a United Press article of March 21, 1944.[4]

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]

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, as well as the American sitcom Dear John based on it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Popular Baby Names". www.ssa.gov. Retrieved 2021-07-12.
  2. ^ "Agnes von Kurowsky to Ernest Hemingway". World Wide Words. 7 March 1919. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  3. ^ a b 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.