The term Dear John letter is an American phrase, popularized during World War II. We will examine the meaning of the phrase Dear John letter, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
A Dear John letter is a written communication in which the author ends a personal and intimate relationship with the recipient. The term Dear John letter became popularized during World War II, when many Americans spent years away from home. It was assumed, and probably correctly, that a letter full of affection for the recipient would begin with a salutation such as “Darling” or “Sweetheart”. A letter written to impart the bad news of the end of the relationship would start in a more formal way, such as “Dear John”. John was the most common first name of adult males during the 1940s. The term Dear John letter is still commonly used today. A letter written by a man to a woman, ending the relationship, is known as a Dear Jane letter. Note that both Dear and John or Jane are both capitalized, as is the case in the salutation in a letter. Interestingly, the term Dear John letter is being increasingly used to mean a breakup of any sort.
The original of Catherine in “A Farewell to Arms” was an American nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky, whom he loved passionately, only to have her reject him with a chilly Dear John letter, in which she told him that she was “still very fond” of him but “more as a mother than a sweetheart.” (The New Yorker)
She made her break in a “Dear John” letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner about a month ago that’s been published in at least three newspapers, including The News-Gazette on March 12. (The Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette)
The two grew up in Southern California and dated until Gary sent Marsha a Dear Jane letter ending their relationship while he was in Vietnam in 1968. (The Folsom Telegraph)