NEW YORK – Like any world unto itself, Hollywood has its own lexicon. But Gwyneth Paltrow's use of the term "conscious uncoupling" to describe her breakup with Chris Martin this week had even Hollywood veterans scratching their heads and reaching — metaphorically at least — for a dictionary.
Of course, there was snark, too. And, on the other hand, some genuine appreciation for the message and the way it was delivered — in a joint post from the actress and her rock-star husband on Paltrow's lifestyle website, goop. (Which — surprise! — crashed from the traffic.)
But before we get to that, let's start with the basics: What the heck does "conscious uncoupling" mean?
"I've never heard it, but it sounds like a phrase used by marriage therapists in Malibu," quipped Janice Min, editor of The Hollywood Reporter.
Well — yes, actually. The term was coined by a Los Angeles therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas. Her website describes her as creator of a five-week "Conscious Uncoupling" process — to "release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power and reinvent your life."
Thomas' "passionate commitment to personal and planetary transformation began with her own spiritual awakening at the tender age of 14," her biography says, "when she wholeheartedly devoted herself to the evolution of love in the world."
Paltrow stayed away from planetary talk. But her reference to "unconscious coupling" nonetheless evoked the expected snark, in Hollywood and across the pond in Britain, where the couple is also based.
"What deluded tosh," headlined a column in The Guardian, using slang for rubbish, or nonsense. (Tosh perhaps, but the phrase actually made it to the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of Parliament, where a Labour Party lawmaker referred to a political disagreement over university fees on Wednesday as "yet another example of the coalition's conscious uncoupling.")
Others, though, were touched by the message — while noting how expertly it was managed from a public relations standpoint, with the news released late on a Tuesday, after the celebrity weeklies had all closed their issues.
"It was very smart," said Min, who is also former editor of US Weekly. "By next week, there will be other news, and they probably won't be on the cover at all." And the fact that the couple made the statement on Paltrow's website gave them, of course, message control.
On the other hand, Min said, "I was touched — it really felt sincere. And it gave us more information than you normally get in these situations — revealing they'd been separated for a while. There was a sincerity here that you rarely see."
Also, Paltrow and Martin, the Coldplay lead singer, have two children — Apple, 9, and Moses, 7 — so they have a strong reason to control the message. "No child wants to see news of their parents' breakup on the supermarket shelf," Min noted.
Longtime Hollywood public relations expert Howard Bragman agreed, applauding the couple for their honesty and civility.
"Listen, I've been involved in a LOT of Hollywood divorces, and I have to say, this is refreshing," said Bragman, who is vice chairman of reputation.com. "It's a rational decision by two people who have respect for each other — and for their kids. You can roll your eyes at the purportedly New Age language, but the broader message is, 'We're gonna do this together.' I give them a lot of credit."
So does Jen Singer, New Jersey mother and mom blogger. Singer found the message especially meaningful because she, herself, went through a divorce last year, and sought her own version of "conscious uncoupling."
"I called it my 'unengagement' from marriage — the process of preparing for life on my own," Singer said.
"Sure, Gwyneth has a reputation of being a little bit woo-woo, so we kind of giggle at the phraseology," she said. "But the concept is solid."
Singer added that she and her husband looked for a marriage counselor that would help them, well, uncouple. "But nobody would do it if we weren't willing to commit to trying to fix the marriage," she said. "But we were beyond that. We wanted help in carefully unraveling the husband-wife part of the family while supporting the parents-and-children part. We had to wing it instead."
What will this do for Paltrow's image? Min says she doesn't think that image will change one way or the other — for either fans or detractors.
"Maybe if you don't like her, you'll say, 'Even her breakup has to be precious," she said. "But if you do like her, you'll say, "Bravo. Well thought out."
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.