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I'm looking for a single word, if it exists, to convey the meaning that a concept represents a whole unto itself, so that, even when divided, the results of such division are again whole entities of the same category by themselves.

Examples of this are

  • a hole
  • a scream
  • a cloud
  • a rope

Counterexamples of this are

  • an apple
  • a picture of you and your ex together

I don't much mind the category of the word as long it conveys this specific meaning, it can be and adjective, a noun or else. Thank you for your time.

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  • I don't see how a rope fits into your second category, if you but a rope in two you end up with two short ropes. If you keep on doing it eventually they fall apart but eventually a cloud would become a damp patch so it's just the same.
    – BoldBen
    May 20, 2020 at 6:19
  • You are quite right. Half a rope is still a rope after all, even if only half as useful. :)
    – Nirro
    May 20, 2020 at 6:33
  • Fungible? Amorphous? Fractal? Self-similar? Homogenous? Depends exactly what you mean.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 20, 2023 at 8:36
  • In some particular cases you can use Hydra-headed. The meaning is not quite the same as yours , though (Hydra's heada regenerate) and has a negative connotation. A very interesting question. I hope someone comes up with a good answer.
    – R.S.
    Jun 20, 2023 at 11:06
  • @StuartF: Yes, fractal, is my guess of what's described.
    – Drew
    Jun 20, 2023 at 20:56

3 Answers 3

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FWIW, I don't think that "a whole unto itself" means what you say it means, and thus what you're asking. I think it means almost the opposite of something that's divisible into bits that are self-similar. I think a whole "unto itself" essentially means something that's indivisible, i.e., atomic. (This is in the sense of an individual organism.)

See definition of "unto itself". Using that definition, I'd answer "individual". An individual is a whole unto itself, IMHO.


But I think you're really looking for a name for something that, when divided, gives identical, or nearly so, versions/copies of itself. I'd say that's what a fractal is.

Noun: fractal frak-tul

(mathematics) a geometric pattern that is repeated at every scale and so cannot be represented by classical geometry

-- wordwebonline

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  • 1
    You may be right. I'm not a native speaker and some nuances of the language might be lost on me. This is an old question and I cannot quite recall the context but I remember finding the phrase and the examples somewhere on the Internet. I'm marking this as the accepted answer as it does convey the meaning I asked for, even if the original phrasing is not correct and it's also the earliest answer to propose fractal. Thanks!
    – Nirro
    Jun 22, 2023 at 21:35
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If you take something and cut it in half, you end up with two things that are mostly identical (although perhaps smaller) pieces of the original.

I will provide a word for those pieces as well as a word for the original thing.


A word for the smaller pieces is microcosm:

[Merriam-Webster]
2 : a community or other unity that is an epitome (see EPITOME sense 2) of a larger unity
// The suburb has been the microcosm of the city.

[thesaurus entry]
something (such as a place or an event) that is seen as a small version of something much larger
// The village is a microcosm of the whole country.
// The game was a microcosm of the entire season.

The thesaurus entry also provides alternative words such as cross section.


There might be a more technical term for the original, undivided piece than I can come up with.

But one word, which can be understood analogously, is hydralike. Although it has no actual entry in main dictionaries, it's formed from the base word hydra and the suffix like. It means, as at Definitions, "resembling a hydra."

From Merriam-Webster's definition of hydra:

1 : a many-headed serpent or monster in Greek mythology that was slain by Hercules and each head of which when cut off was replaced by two others

In short, one head, when cut, becomes two identical heads.

This is an analogous idea to cutting a cloud in half and ending up with two clouds, or cutting a worm in half and ending up with two worms. Applying it to a scream or a hole is even more metaphorical, but the essential concept is the same.

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Fractal, self-similar, and scale-invariant are all words that describe items which appear "the same" when viewing a smaller piece of the whole. It doesn't necessarily imply that the sub-unit is a complete entity unto itself, but that it is in some way similar. It suggests there are many layers of detail which can be revealed depending on the level of observation.

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