The phrase means that’s all there is, it’s finished, it’s over, the end. It originated in America, but the source is unknown.
The popular explanation is that it’s the punch line of a tale about an American GI serving overseas in the second World War. The GI is supposed to have received a letter from his sweetheart. He reads it to his colleagues: “Dear John.” They tell him to go on. “That’s it; that’s all she wrote.” However, there’s no evidence to support this explanation.
An example in print that precedes WWII is from a column in the Texas newspaper The Brownsville Herald, June 1935: “No power except that of the legislature can change the rolls. The assessor-collectors do not have the power, the commissioners’ courts do not have the power. That’s all she wrote and it’s final, the attorney general says in language much more eloquent and technical.”
Ernest Tubb wrote a country music song called That’s All She Wrote and published it in 1942. It seems likely that Tubb took the expression from popular usage. It’s possible, of course, that the expression was in use prior to 1935. Such expressions are often in use long before they appear in print.
American researcher Garson O’Toole, writing on the American Dialect Society mailing list, found three examples of “that’s all she wrote” from 1942, but all of them were in civilian contexts, so the prevailing view that the idiom is from World War Two servicemen being dumped by Dear John letters is no longer sustainable.
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