Saturday, September 18, 2004

'Integral Part'

One often hears sentences of the form, ‘X is an integral part of Y.’ As most people use the phrase ‘integral part,’ it is pretentious fluff in which ‘integral’ adds a high-sounding note but contributes nothing of substance. Indeed, the phrase smacks of an oxymoron. Integrity is wholeness. An integer is a whole number as opposed to a fraction. The suspicion arises that an integral part of a whole is the whole itself.

So what’s a language Nazi to do? We can either ban the phrase or regiment it. I propose a regimentation which secures for the phrase a respectable meaning. To wit,

X is an integral part of Y =df (i) X is a proper part of Y; (ii) X is an essential part of Y. A proper part of a whole W is a part that is not identical to W. X is an essential part of Y =df X is a part without which Y could not exist. If you accept my regimentation, then ‘My heart is an integral part of my (living) body’ is an acceptable sentence, whereas ‘My left foot is an integral part of my (living) body’ is not. An integral part, then is a part that is essential to the integrity, the wholeness, of the whole whose part it is.

And if you don’t accept my regimentation? Then you must answer to the soup Nazi whose mere glance strikes terror into the language Nazi.