My wife used the expression "you are waking up the house" when my son was making a lot of noise. Now that is actually wrong, I think - that would imply that the house as an entity was being woken, which is wrong as the house is brick.

However, "you are waking up the entire house" is acceptable in British English. So why does adding "Whole" change the meaning so much?

My only thought was that it could be a corruption of "Household". Any thoughts?

[edit] Just for clarification, I do understand that "waking up the house" carries the same meaning, but the interest was that the normal usage is the whole house. And I am interested in why this "whole" makes a difference.

  • 7
    I think this is just peeving. Jan 29 '12 at 16:43
  • Interestingly, the literal translation of "You are waking up the whole house" is also common in German: "Du weckst das ganze Haus auf": [google.de/…
    – Stephen
    Jan 29 '12 at 17:54
  • 3
    It's the common idiom. No one (save you) could ever think it means to arouse every brick and batten. I hope you didn't lay any constructive criticism on your wife about her "mistake". Jan 29 '12 at 19:02
  • I don't see what's wrong with interpreting this as making so much noise that the house (which might be thought of as in eternal slumber) was roused from its rest due to the incredible noise that the person was making.
    – Dason
    Jan 29 '12 at 19:44
  • In my experience (American English), "whole house" is more common and "entire house" would mean exactly the same thing -- everyone in the house(hold). Jan 30 '12 at 13:47

I'd have thought whole house or entire house was more usual than house on its own in that context, but the etymology of whole is quite unrelated to that of household. The appeal of whole house may lie in the alliteration.

  • Which is the sound that is alliterated ? Jan 29 '12 at 15:31
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    @speedyGonzales: /h/. Jan 29 '12 at 15:55
  • @speedyGonzales: whole house. I will admit to having heard this expression with an adjective for house that destroys the alliteration, though.
    – dotancohen
    Jan 29 '12 at 16:50
  • I doubt that alliteration plays into it. See the example in @tenfour's answer on my comment. Jan 30 '12 at 2:32
  • You are getting the accept because the alliterative answer is probably close to the reason for using it. Feb 3 '12 at 13:44

It means "all the people within the house". Here, "house" is being used metonymically to describe a set of people (the inhabitants).

  • Yes, metonymy. "The pen is mightier than the sword", and all that.
    – nohat
    Jan 29 '12 at 18:24
  • But who "whole" as the modifier to make it "the people in the house" rather than "the bricks and mortar"? That is what puzzles me. Jan 29 '12 at 18:31
  • @Schroedinger Why would it ever refer to the bricks and mortar?
    – nohat
    Jan 29 '12 at 21:49
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    "Jim ate 4 cookies. Susan ate the whole box" -- obviously "box" refers to its contents, not the cardboard packaging.
    – tenfour
    Jan 30 '12 at 0:47
  • 1
    Thanks for the edit, RegDwight! That's much more accurate. Anyway for the OP, 'whole' is just an intensifier, but it gives a bit of a clue to the metonymic usage as well... "the whole <container>" is sort of a set phrase. Jan 30 '12 at 2:27

I think it could be interpreted either as "the household" OR the "the house as an entity in itself". As support for the second intepretation, consider "you're making enough noise to wake the dead". Obviously you can't literally make enough noise to wake the dead (you could make enough noise to make the living dead, but that's a separate issue), so there's a bit of hyerpbole invlolved, but it does make sense...

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