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 she 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] A Dear Jane letter is a contemporary version of a Dear John letter addressed to a female lover.[3]


This term is also used more rarely to describe letters written in the context of employment, either to inform an applicant that they had not been selected for a job,[6][7][8] why employees had been separated from work,[9] or from an employee to their employer upon the employee quitting.[10]

A letter terminating someone from existing employment (as a firing, not a voluntary resignation) is more commonly known as a "pink slip".[11] A rejection to a job applicant is more commonly a "punt letter" or "F.O.A.D. letter" (effectively, telling the applicant "f--- off and die" in some euphemistic manner, like claiming that "no suitable position exists" after the candidate has been interviewed and the job given to someone else). Any reference to these as "Dear John" letters, which appears infrequently, is an implicit comparison to ending a long-distance romance with a "Dear John" letter.

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.
  6. ^ Susan M. Heathfield. "Communicating with Candidates for Your Job". Money.
  7. ^ "The 'Dear John' letter to candidates: Follow this protocol".
  8. ^ "How to write a "Dear John" letter".
  9. ^ DDM (1 October 2013). "Obama Sends 'Dear John' Letter To Federal Workers: It's Not You, It's Congress".
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2014-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^