Definition of palimpsest
- 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
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The ancient city is an architectural palimpsest.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'palimpsest.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
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.
: 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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