Why is holism named after some kind of nothing (a hole) and not after the whole, i.e. wholism?

That's the catchy way to ask the question. The serious way is: Does the "hole" have to do with the "whole" etymologically?

(Pun: A howl sounds best in a hole.)

  • 1
    It's an interesting question, but folks may be reacting negatively to the jokes obscuring the root of the question, or they may feel that it's too basic a question since it's easy to look up in an etymological dictionary. Nov 2, 2013 at 0:00
  • I usually use the Online Etymology Dictionary, linked in my answer below. Nov 2, 2013 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


Holism is unrelated to hole. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1926, apparently by South African Gen. J.C. Smuts (1870-1950) in his book “Holism and Evolution” which treats of evolution as a process of unification of separate parts; from Greek holos “whole” (see safe (adj.)) + -ism.

Thus, holism is spelled like that because it's from a Greek word meaning “whole” that is spelled like hole. Oddly enough, Greek holos is etymologically unrelated to either English word.


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