Posted by: Jack Henry | May 14, 2019

Editor’s Corner: That’s All She Wrote

Dear Editrix,

I’m wondering about the phrase “That’s all she wrote.” It appears to be a simple thing, derived from the Dear John-type of letter. Any thoughts on this?


Dear Keith,

It appears there is no certainty about the origin of that phrase, but the common explanation is that it refers to Dear John letters written during the Second World War. More, from The Grammarist:

That’s all she wrote is a phrase used to express the sentiment that one’s plans have come to an abrupt halt, that something has ended and there is nothing else to be said or discussed about the matter. That’s all she wrote is an American phrase, and most attribute its origin to the Dear John letters sent during World War II. A joke made the rounds in which servicemen compare their Dear John letters, one being a pages-long good-bye letter, one consisting of a few sentences, and one simply saying, “Dear John.” The punchline being, “That’s all she wrote.[KC–War or no war, that’s a pretty lame joke.] Several Country and Western songs have been written containing the phrase that’s all she wrote.

An article in The Phrase Finder adds:

A more plausible source is a country music song titled “That’s All She Wrote,” recorded by Ernest Tubb and published in sheet music form in 1942:

I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two
She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you
That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more
She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.

Sorry I don’t have something more definitive for you!


Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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