Holly - holy - wholly

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Be careful not to confuse the three words holly, holy and wholly, as has been done.

  • Holly is the name of a tree, or shrub. In Britain, this is usually Ilex Aquifolium, an evergreen with glossy dark prickly leaves and characteristic bright red berries. It is popularly used as part of Christmas decorations. There are about 400 other species in the genus Ilex.
Holly is pronounced with the short '-o-' of 'got' and 'shop', IPA: /'hɒ lɪ/.
Holy and wholly are homophones. 
They are pronounced with the so-called long '-o-' of 'hope' and 'so': IPA: /'həʊ lɪ/ - though careful speakers may realize the two '-l-'s of 'wholly': /'həʊl lɪ/.
    • Holy is an adjective (and occasionally a noun) whose base meaning is 'sacred', 'consecrated to God', 'to do with religious virtue or observance'. More trivially, it may be used as a slang or colloquial intensifier, for example to "have a holy horror of gossips"; or expletive, as in the exclamation "Holy Moses!".
      • The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third member of the Trinity, or Third Person into which Christians teach that God is divided ("God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost".)
      • The Holy Father is a name for the Pope used by Roman Catholics, who also call his diocese of Rome The Holy See.
      • A Holy Joe is a chaplain or parson, often, like Holy Willie, one seen as hypocritical, or "holier than thou", which means 'pretending to superior virtue', or smugly superior and hypocritical. The name helps supply the title of Robert Burns's satirical masterpiece Holy Willie's Prayer, which purports to be the thoughts of a sanctimonious local Elder of the Kirk with whom Burns had had arguments. His real name was Willie Fisher.
      • The Holy of Holies was the inner room of the Sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, which only the High Priest ever entered. It may be used figuratively to denote any place which is particularly precious or special to a person.
    • Wholly is the adverb formed from the adjective whole. It therefore means 'completely', 'entirely'.