I love words.
Behind the words that we use every day, there are stories and journeys reflecting and defining our culture and how we see the world.
“All language proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move”Bruce Chatwin
Last Friday, I was exploring the word holistic for something I was writing.
The first surprise for me was to discover that it is a recent entry in the dictionary. It was coined in 1926 by Jan Christian Smuts, a South African soldier and statesman with a passion for natural science. He defined holism as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.”
From there, the words holism and holistic took over, and are now commonly used.
Smuts derived holism from the Greek word holos, meaning “whole”, probably attracted by the similar sound. Yet, apparently, the two words have no etymological connection.
In fact, the word “whole” originated from the Middle English hool.
The Greek word holos derives from the Proto-Indo-European root sol-, meaning “whole, well-kept.” From the same root, derive the Latin salvus, “uninjured, in good health, safe” and salus meaning “good health”.
Following this path, it is clear that for our ancestors being healthy meant to be whole.
What I find fascinating is that the word “whole” shares the same root, the Proto-Indo-European *kailo-, with the word “health”. Again, the same connection transpires.
In all languages, there is a strong connection between being whole and being healthy. Something we should remind ourselves more often.