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Word of the Week: ‘divorce’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘divorce’.


It’s time to don your linguistic caps, folks! The wordsmiths at east London’s finest content agency are debating this week’s word of the week: divorce. 

Why? The divorce system in the UK is set to be overhauled for the first time in over 50 years. Government officials confirmed new legislation will replace the existing ‘fault-based’ system – thought to perpetuate a ‘blame game’, bad feeling and acrimony.

Under the current laws, one spouse has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other in order to commence divorce proceedings quickly. If one spouse cannot prove either of these ‘fault-based’ behaviours, divorce can take between two and five years. 

This week’s landmark decision was reached after one woman’s appeal for divorce – made on the basis that she was unhappy – was rejected by her husband and the Supreme Court, meaning she had to remain married, and presumably unhappy, until 2020. 

So why do we care? Well, between the UK legal overhaul, reports of Jeff ‘Amazon’ Bezos’ most expensive divorce in history and (whisper it) Brexit, it seems this unhappy word is on everyone’s lips and fingertips. The terms ‘no fault divorce’ and ‘grounds for divorce’ are currently breakout terms on Google Trends, meaning their search volume has increased by 5000% or more. 

What does ‘divorce’ mean?

The word derives from the Latin, “divortium”, meaning “separation, dissolution of marriage”. The Urban Dictionary has similarly traced the word’s etymology – though in its usual crude, deliberately misinformed way: “from the Latin meaning to rip a man’s genitals out through his wallet”. 

Another definition? Simply, “when your friends were right”. 

Today, the most common definition of 'divorce’ as a noun is: “an official or legal process to end a marriage”, or a “separation”. 

Until recently, nearly half of all marriages ended in divorce – earning baby boomers a reputation of being ‘divorce happy’. The latest statistics however, reveal divorce is at a 45-year low. Could this be because millennials are actually doing something right? No, come on. It can’t be that. Experts actually put it down to fewer people getting married in the first place – or getting married far later. In the age of the cohabitation revolution, ‘conscious uncoupling’, and a rise in polyamory, could it be that marriage is becoming a defunct, archaic institution?

‘Divorce’ as a concept is not limited to couples. Children have been known to ‘divorce’ their parents. Landmark examples include the widely reported 1992 case of 12-year-old Gregory Kingsley in the US – and the fictional case of Drew Barrymore in the 1984 film Irreconcilable Differences

And then of course (because it wouldn’t be an edition of WOTW without a mention), there’s Brexit. Headlines frequently refer to the UK as ‘divorcing’ from the EU. Except unlike most divorces, this will cost an estimated £39 billion and it’s unlikely that we, the unfortunate children stuck in the middle, will get two sets of Christmas and birthday presents every year as a result. It will certainly not be, in the tradition of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, a ‘conscious uncoupling’.

Brexit is sure to make the list of some of the most famous, celebrity divorces in history, joining the illustrious ranks of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

In the fitting words of Margaret Atwood: “a divorce is like an amputation, you survive, but there’s less of you”.

Read more:

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Word of the Week: ‘petition’