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I wrote this in an email today, explaining why I edited another designer’s sentence “Hide entire words” to “Hide whole words”:

The words “entire” and “whole” are almost entirely/wholly interchangeable, but I understand “entire” to mean “complete, with no parts left out,” and “whole” to mean “all of something.” I ate a whole pie, and an entire bag of cookies. (Burp!) I’d use “whole” here since what is emphasized is not the completion of a collection of parts, but the completeness of a single thing-in-itself. That’s why I say “Entire Library” (a collection of parts) not “Whole Library” and “whole word” (a fully integrated holistic entity) not “entire word”. I may be the only person in the whole/entire world who observes this distinction. :D

But it’s true. When you say, “the entire world,” I imagine a complex and diverse collection of parts, all of Creation in its vast array. But when you say, “the whole world,” I imagine a single sphere floating in space, complete and self-contained. If you were to say, “The entire automobile,” I would imagine you meant that no parts were missing; whereas “The whole automobile,” conjures up images of a car that has not been divided into parts. An “entire collection” is one in which all the pieces appear. A “whole collection” is one which is ideally inseparable. The “entire” collection is, to my mind, more likely to be eclectic than the “whole” one.

To be clear, I mean only the adjectives “entire” and “whole.” I don’t think the same distinctions hold for phrases like, “in its entirety” and “as a whole.” His face, taken as a whole. His face, taken in its entirety. There is still a difference there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Also, “wholly” versus “entirely.” One could say “wholly other” but “entirely different.” There are different forces at work there.

This is just an intuition on my part, which I expect is entirely or wholly wrong.

Sep 13, 2011 | Eli Evans | permalink | comment

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