Dictionary.com

Euphemisms in the News: Conscious Uncoupling

candles

Gwyneth Paltrow’s divorce announcement on March 25 sparked conversation all over the Internet. The discussion wasn’t about how sad fans were about her split from longtime husband (and Coldplay frontman) Chris Martin; rather, it was about Paltrow’s euphemistic language. The actress assiduously avoided the term divorce in her original blog post on her site Goop, and opted instead for conscious uncoupling.

No. Gwyneth Paltrow did not invent this term. The word uncouple has been applied to the end of relationships since at least 1942, though it only surfaced in pop-psychology talk in the 1970s. Conscious uncoupling appears to have been coined by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas (though the term may have been coined independently by others around the same time). Thomas has been using this phrase over the last several years to describe a process of separation filled with respect and goodwill. She even offers a five-week program called Conscious Uncoupling that promises to “release the trauma of a breakup” while helping participants “reclaim [their] power and reinvent [their lives].”

Will the term conscious uncoupling replace divorce? I predict it won’t, because conscious uncoupling, as euphemistic as it is, appears to refer to a particular type of divorce—specifically one devoid of animosity. Tumultuous, nonconsensual, and “unconscious” divorces will still thrive. Today, the term divorce is not necessarily negative. But if conscious uncoupling catches on, will divorce come to have exclusively negative connotations? Divorce and conscious uncoupling could coexist in this scenario—there’s room enough for the both in the English language.

However, from time to time in the history of English, euphemisms have completely overtaken their more direct counterparts. Ralph Keyes discusses the oldest known euphemism, bear, in his book Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms. A thousand years ago when bear first entered English, bears were considered to be blood-hungry beasts capable of tearing a human limb-to-limb, creatures that many considered to be monsters. At this time, people believed that to say the name of a monster would summon that horrifying creature. Following similar logic, characters in Harry Potter refer to Lord Voldemort as He Who Must Not Be Named. Keyes writes: “The word ‘bear’ itself evolved from a euphemistic term that meant ‘the brown one.’… Because the word that ‘bear’ replaced was never recorded, it remains a mystery.”

Bears were terrifying creatures to early English speakers, just as divorce is a frightening term for some people today, including Gwyneth Paltrow, apparently. If enough English speakers feel the same way, conscious uncoupling could overtake divorce in the next hundred years. Perhaps in a thousand years, the word divorce will be obsolete. Then again, divorce and conscious uncoupling might both be in popular use in the future. Barring the discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone, none of us will be around to find out.

27 Comments

  1. […] out of fear that uttering the word would cause a bear to appear. Instead they used a version of “He who should not be named,” which translates as “the brown one”.  This would evolve into the word we know today, “bear.” The actual original word is […]

    Reply
  2. […] out of fear that uttering a word would means a bear to appear. Instead they used a chronicle of “He who should not be named,” that translates as “the brownish-red one”.  This would develop into a word we know today, “bear.” The tangible strange word is mislaid […]

    Reply
  3. Johnathon -  April 29, 2014 - 9:00 am

    On the last paragraph it says that we wont be able to find out, but I say whatever we teach others, such as our children, we will be able to assume what will happen. If this is not true somebody please correct me.

    Reply
  4. Etonym -  April 23, 2014 - 10:39 am

    Since English is a germanic language, I would expect the word to be similar to the German or Dutch words for Bear (tragen and dragen, repectively). Thus, Dragon.

    Reply
    • bccampbe -  April 27, 2014 - 7:09 am

      Those (tragen and dragen) are actually the German and Dutch words for bear as in “to bear”, like to bear a load. The words for the animal are bären and beren respectively, suggesting a similar superstitious across the Germanic world.

      http://www.wordreference.com/ende/bear

      Reply
  5. Paul W Dixon -  April 5, 2014 - 12:59 pm

    I like the expression “conscious uncoupling” and similar words.
    My favourite has to be “chronologically advantaged” for the elderly.
    Imagine a chronologically advantaged financially challenged couple engaging in a process of conscious uncoupling…

    Reply
  6. Dave Brast -  April 4, 2014 - 12:27 pm

    Great photo at the head of this article: the flame of love has died.

    Reply
  7. Lynn -  March 31, 2014 - 3:41 pm

    Sometimes I just don’t find the words for such BS. “Conscious uncoupling” WTF. What is Gwyeth trying to convey. . .”we are just great friends, love and adore the guy, we have two beautiful children. . .but hey, I’m tired of this couple thing so let’s uncouple.

    Reply
  8. A girl -  March 31, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    :(
    :)
    :(
    :)
    :(
    :)
    :(
    :)
    :(
    :)
    :(
    :)
    :(

    Reply
  9. A religious fellow -  March 31, 2014 - 1:20 pm

    It says in the bible that you should not get divorced.

    Reply
  10. qwerty -  March 31, 2014 - 1:16 pm

    `1234567890-=qwertyuiop[]\asdfghjkl;’zxcvbnm,./~!@#$%^&*()_+QWERTYUIOP{}|ASDFGHJKL:”ZXCVBNM?

    Reply
  11. AGS -  March 31, 2014 - 1:14 pm

    My girlfriend and I hav a baby ooh la la

    Reply
  12. Lisa Tarquinio -  March 31, 2014 - 8:22 am

    I believe why Paltrow used the euphemism is simply because I think they are trying to soften the blow of what’s to come. Their life is in the public eye and will always be, their children will see how it will all play out and I think they put it as eloquently as possible given the circumstances. Everyone knows that’s the divorce is in the works I don’t think people are naïve to think that they will work things out especially with that statement put out last week. It’s obvious they thought long and hard about this.

    Reply
  13. Bhavvv -  March 31, 2014 - 3:02 am

    Euphemisms sounds ‘suave’—- both ways: colloquially- in the day-to-day parlance…n professionally/academically/former-ly. For its a sugar-coated way to say things…N why Not..Today we get to see n listen 2 words that are cuss words/ vulgar n other profane swear words. Its cool if v cud slightly replace our diction from f*** off to “naff off”/”lay off”/ “stay clear” etc. N otherwise they can b wittily used for sarcasm, n lamponing…So its kinda coooool Stuff…!!!

    Reply
  14. drachehexe -  March 30, 2014 - 6:06 pm

    I would suspect the use of this term, by Paltrow at least, has less to do with whether or not the couple’s breakup is amiable and more of a way to save face and not scar her public image.

    If anyone is fooled to think “Well, it isn’t a divorce, it’s a conscious uncoupling!” then I have lots of bridges to sell them because it IS a divorce. All the legal documents will read “divorce” and not “conscious uncoupling”.

    This attempt to make it look good actually makes her look stupid.

    Reply
  15. Lynsy Smith -  March 30, 2014 - 11:05 am

    I wonder if a breakup-moon will catch on too. Gwyneth Paltrow (Chris Martin), and Brad Pitt (Jennifer Anniston) have done it.

    Reply
  16. John -  March 30, 2014 - 10:31 am

    What happens to the people who uncouple unconsciously? Do they regain consciousness and find, to their surprise, they are separated? Scary stuff…

    Reply
  17. Louise Ennis -  March 29, 2014 - 12:29 pm

    Conscious uncoupling – process after one awakes and realizes one has unconsciously coupled

    Reply
  18. some girl -  March 28, 2014 - 11:14 pm

    would “conscious coupling” be marriage or consensual sex? she’s so annoying. who cares what she calls it or that she’s doing it. big deal.

    Reply
    • A girl -  March 31, 2014 - 3:20 pm

      I really agree! :)

      ~=[,,_,,]:3

      Reply
  19. OED -  March 27, 2014 - 10:38 pm

    It’s a term that the goyim pick up once they start their trendy Kabalah classes.

    Reply
  20. Laura Nass -  March 27, 2014 - 7:11 pm

    My opinion is that euphemisms are ridiculous. Why is it that, although “bowel movement”, “feces”, “turd”, “crap”, and “shit” all mean exactly the same thing, one of those words is considered vulgar, so much to that allowing it to be uttered on the radio will call for a fine of 5 digits in US dollars? What is so different between that and the other words?

    Reply
  21. A dude -  March 27, 2014 - 6:03 pm

    OH MY GOD
    I got first Comment!!!
    Still, this article is interesting.

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top