Cultural concept: wholesomeness

Now here is a word that is as American as apple pie: wholesome.

Merriam Webster defines it as:  1) promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit, 2) promoting health of body, and 3) sound in body, mind, or morals.  Wiki has similar definitions:  promoting good moral, mental and physical health and well-being; sound and healthy; promoting virtue or being virtuous.

So food can be wholesome, when they have good, nutritious ingredients, maybe even organic or locally grown, or both and are preferably home made (“homemade style” of prepared food seems to count, at least that’s where one often finds the attribute “wholesome” attached to). I am generally thinking of apples picked from the own pesticide-free tree in the back yard.

wholesome fun for the whole family and the animals, pic: midianitemanna.

Where the word becomes more of a concept and – in my mind a very American one – is when we start talking about “wholesome” people, behavior, activities.  That’s when the morals mentioned in the definitions above come into play.  In that context “wholesome” often implies rather strict morals.  For example, if somebody tells you that the show they say was  “wholesome fun for the whole family” you can be absolutely sure that no off-color joke was made, no questionable connotation was to be found, everything was squeaky clean, and appropriate for the average 3 year old.

Here is another example where wholesome far exceeds red-cheeked apples and ventures far into morals (although not virtue): there is such a thing as wholesome swimwear, which, in case you wondered, is also called “modest”, in other words covers you up from neck to knees or if you prefer even down to your calves.

The word has become closely liked to strong Christian believes as this website about wholesome words shows.


In this case it might be instructive to have a quick look at antonyms, that is words that mean the opposite.  Dictionaries pretty uncreatively list words like: bad, impure, indecent, unhealthy but that list isn’t telling the whole story, I would definitely add words like: edgy, though-provoking, provocative, stimulating, different.

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