Definition of palimpsest
1 : writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
2 : something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface Canada … is a palimpsest, an overlay of classes and generations. — Margaret Atwood too short a time to get to know the palimpsest of Genevan societies, let alone those of Switzerland — George Steiner
palimpsest was our Word of the Day on 04/29/2010. Hear the podcast!
Examples of palimpsest in a sentence
The ancient city is an architectural palimpsest.
Did You Know?
In olden days, writing surfaces were so rare that they were often used more than once. "Palimpsest" originally described an early form of recycling in which an old document was erased to make room for a new one when parchment ran short. Fortunately for modern scholars, the erasing process wasn't completely effective, so the original could often be distinguished under the newer writing. De republica, by Roman statesman and orator Cicero, is one of many documents thus recovered from a palimpsest. Nowadays, the word palimpsest can refer not only to such a document but to anything that has multiple layers.
Origin and Etymology of palimpsest
Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsēstos scraped again, from palin + psēn to rub, scrape; akin to Sanskrit psāti, babhasti he chews
First Known Use: 1825
PALIMPSEST Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of palimpsest for English Language Learners
: a very old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing
: something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change
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