What Is a Dear John Letter? – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Dear John isn’t just a Channing Tatum romance movie. Although it’s aptly titled, trust me. So, what’s the deal with the meaning behind the term “Dear John” anyway? It’s kind of a sad story, really, but I’ll explain what a Dear John letter means, talk about where it came from, and show you how to use it in a full sentence.

What Is a Dear John Letter?

What Is a Dear John Letter Origin Meaning

A Dear John letter is a written farewell as old as time (or as old as the mail system). In the most basic terms, a Dear John letter is a written message, usually from a romantic partner, meant to end a relationship.

It’s in letter form because it’s often associated with long-distance relationships or old-fashioned wartime breakups. These letters have become synonymous with a tragic love story’s heartbreaking and usually one-sided conclusion.

Meaning of Using “Dear John” for Dear John Letters

The use of “Dear John” and not some other name as the opening salutation for these kinds of letters is both a nod to tradition and a clever way to soften the blow.

The name John is also used for things like “John Doe,” which is what they call someone who comes into a hospital with no identification. So, by using a super generic name, “John,” the person who sent the letter acknowledges the universality of the experience while also providing a smidge of anonymity.

It helped women who had boyfriends head off to war create a way to contact their partner and let them know they couldn’t wait around; they wanted to end the relationship before the male returned, or if he returned at all.

It’s like the old-timey breakup equivalent of “It’s not you. It’s me.”

Is There a Dear Jane Letter?

Yes, the “Dear John letter” is the more widely recognized term, but the concept of a “Dear Jane letter” does indeed exist. It serves the same purpose as its male counterpart, but a Dear Jane letter is a written message from a man to his female partner to end their romantic relationship.

Origin of Dear John Letter

The roots of the letter go back to war times, but to get more specific about it, the term and concept first appeared in a major newspaper in 1943 by correspondent Milton Bracker who wired the story of Dear John letters and groups forming in the war.

Dear John Letter Examples in a Sentence

What Is a Dear John Letter Origin Meaning 1
  • He read the Dear John letter with a mixture of sadness and disbelief, struggling to accept that their love had come to an end.
  • She hesitated before sealing the envelope, unsure if she could go through with sending the Dear John letter.
  • Receiving a Dear John letter in the mail was a crushing blow, but Adam vowed to move forward and heal.
  • The poor soldier’s heart sank as he recognized the familiar handwriting on the Dear John letter.
  • Mary found the old Dear John letter tucked away in a drawer, a painful reminder of a long-lost love.

Sigh, Love

So, there’s your whimsical yet informative journey through the concept of Dear John letters. I hope my quick guide helped shed some light on the idea and showed you how to properly use the term. Be sure to check out my other helpful grammar guide for more tips!