10 October 2003

From "The Straight Dope" Column

Cecil Adams answers my questions:

Dear Cecil:

Recently I purchased a 1957 Information Please Almanac just to see if I had missed anything of importance. And indeed I had! Its table of "Grounds for Divorce" shows a mystery category of "Indignities," which I had never heard of. What are these "Indignities"? They cannot be "Crimes Against Nature," for footnote number five reveals that this is grounds only in Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Arizona. Hurry, Cecil--I would hate to inflict indignities on my wife out of negligence or ignorance. --R.M. Schultz, Chicago

PS: What exactly is the "Loathsome Disease" that is grounds for divorce in Kentucky? If it's hay fever I'm in trouble.

Silly boy. Prior to the introduction of no-fault divorce in the 1970s, "indignities" was the catchall term for whatever bugged you about the old battle-ax (or inconsiderate pig) your adoring spouse had turned out to be, and as such was the most common grounds for a split. Sample indignities, lifted from a Pennsylvania lawyer's Web site: "vulgarity; unmerited reproach; habitual laziness; studied neglect; intentional incivility; manifest disdain; abusive language; [and] malignant ridicule"--any of which can supposedly "render [the injured party's] condition intolerable and his or her life burdensome." Loathsome disease, a traditional grounds for divorce in many cultures, is commonly understood to mean something like leprosy--not your typical marital problem these days. Manifest disdain, on the other hand . . . if I were you, I'd be careful about leaving that toilet seat up.