Home Wholly, holy, holey

The Greek word ολοσ (holos) means entire or whole. Now you might think that the English word whole has the same origin, but you would be wrong.

The Greek ολοσ comes from an Indo-European root SOLO, meaning whole, firm, sound, or correct. A holograph is written entirely in one’s own hand, and a holocaust was originally the burning of a whole body, before it came to mean the destruction of a whole nation. Catholic (from the Greek κατα, throughout) means throughout the whole world. SOLO also gives solicitous (wholly concerned with something), solemn (wholly religious), and solid. 


Whole, on the other hand, has a different Indo-European root, KAILO, of good omen or unharmed. A celibate was originally someone who was healthy (specifically, free from sexually transmitted diseases) and later someone who lived alone. The names Helga, Olga, and Héloise come from the same root, as does holy. Someone who is hale is healthy and whole. And the greeting “Hail” is short for “Be healthy.”


The homophone hole comes from yet another Indo-European root, KEL, a hollow or to cover or hide. The goddess Calypso hid Odysseus on her island for seven years, delaying his return to Ithaca. The Eucalyptus is well covered, having caps over its buds. The Apocalypse has come from under cover and is therefore apparent in the Book of Revelations. And colours cover the surface of things, hiding them. Hell is a hole in the ground, and Hel was the Norse goddess of the dead. Hollow structures include a hall, a holster, a helmet, and the hull of a boat or the hull or husk of corn.


In 1926 the South African statesman General Jan Christian Smuts invented the concept of holism—defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the tendency in nature to produce wholes from the ordered grouping of unit structures”—which, Smuts said, “is seen at all stages of existence.” Then in the 1930s the idea of wholism was invented as a sort of pun on holism, and defined as “the doctrine or belief that wholes must be studied as such.” Nowadays these two ideas have been confounded, and we talk about holistic medicine, when what we really mean is wholistic medicine.

And that’s the whole truth.



hale (adj.)
“in good health, robust,” Old English hal “healthy, sound, safe; entire; uninjured; genuine, straightforward,” from Proto-Germanic *hailaz(source also of Old Frisian hel”complete, full; firm” (of ground), Old High German heil, Old Norse heill “hale, sound,” Gothic hails “hale”), from PIE *kailo- “whole, uninjured, of good omen” (see health). The Scottish and northern English form of whole and with a more etymological spelling. It later acquired a literary sense of “free from infirmity” (1734), especially in reference to the aged. Related: Haleness.

hale (v.)

c. 1200, “drag, pull,” in Middle English used of arrows, bowstrings, reins, swords, anchors, etc., from Old French haler “to pull, haul, tow, tug” (12c.), from Frankish *halon or Old Dutch halen or some other Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *halon “to call,” from PIE root *kele- (2) “to shout.” Figurative sense of “to draw (someone) from one condition to another” is late 14c. Related: Haled; haling.



holy (adj.)
Origin and meaning of holy
Old English halig “holy, consecrated, sacred; godly; ecclesiastical,” from Proto-Germanic *hailaga- (source also of Old Norse heilagr, Danish hellig, Old Frisian helich “holy,” Old Saxon helag, Middle Dutch helich, Old High German heilag, German heilig, Gothic hailags “holy”), from PIE *kailo- “whole, uninjured” (see health). Adopted at conversion for Latin sanctus.

The primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not possible to determine, but probably it was “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated,” and connected with Old English hal (see health) and Old High German heil “health, happiness, good luck” (source of the German salutation Heil).



whole (adj.)
Old English hal “entire, whole; unhurt, uninjured, safe; healthy, sound; genuine, straightforward,” from Proto-Germanic *haila- “undamaged” (source also of Old Saxon hel, Old Norse heill, Old Frisian hal, Middle Dutch hiel, Dutch heel, Old High German, German heil “salvation, welfare”), from PIE *kailo- “whole, uninjured, of good omen” (source also of Old Church Slavonic celu “whole, complete;” see health).

The spelling with wh- developed early 15c. The sense in whole number is from early 14c. Whole milk is from 1782. On the whole “considering all facts or circumstances” is from 1690s.



heal (v.)
Old English hælan “cure; save; make whole, sound and well,” from Proto-Germanic *hailjan (source also of Old Saxon helian, Old Norse heila, Old Frisian hela, Dutch helen, German heilen, Gothic ga-hailjan “to heal, cure”), literally “to make whole” (from PIE *kailo- “whole;” see health).



also solə-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning “whole, well-kept.”

It forms all or part of: catholic; consolidate; consolidation; holism; holo-; holocaust; Holocene; hologram; holograph; insouciant; safe; safety; sage (n.1) kind of herb; salubrious; salutary; salute; salvage; salvific; salvo “simultaneous discharge of guns;” save (v.) “deliver from danger;” save (prep.) “except;” solder; soldier; solemn; solicit; solicitous; solid; solidarity; solidity; sou.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit sarvah “uninjured, intact, whole;” Avestan haurva- “uninjured, intact;” Old Persian haruva-; Greek holos “whole;” Latin salvus “uninjured, in good health, safe,” salus “good health,” solidus “solid;” Armenian olj “whole, healthy.”

Entries linking to *sol-
catholic (adj.)
mid-14c., “of the doctrines of the ancient Church” (before the East/West schism), literally “universally accepted,” from French catholique, from Church Latin catholicus “universal, general,” from Greek katholikos, from phrase kath’ holou “on the whole, in general,” from kata “about” + genitive of holos “whole” (from PIE root *sol- “whole, well-kept”).

Medieval Latin catholicus was practically synonymous with Christian and meant “constituting or conforming to the church, its faith and organization” (as opposed to local sects or heresies). With capital C-, applied by Protestants to the Church in Rome c. 1554, after the Reformation began. General sense of “embracing all, universal” in English is from 1550s. Meaning “not narrow-minded or bigoted” is from 1580s. The Latin word was rendered in Old English as eallgeleaflic.

consolidate (v.)
1510s, “to combine into one body,” from Latin consolidatus, past participle of consolidare “to make solid,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + solidare “to make solid,” from solidus “firm, whole, undivided, entire,” from suffixed form of PIE root *sol- “whole.”


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