from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.
  • n. An object, place, or area that reflects its history: "Spaniards in the sixteenth century . . . saw an ocean moving south . . . through a palimpsest of bayous and distributary streams in forested paludal basins” ( John McPhee).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A manuscript or document that has been erased or scraped clean, for reuse of the paper, parchment, vellum, or other medium on which it was written. Many historical texts have been recovered using ultraviolet light and other technologies to read the erased writing.
  • n. Monumental brasses that have been reused by engraving of the blank back side.
  • n. Circular features believed to be lunar craters that have been obliterated by later volcanic activity.
  • n. Geological features thought to be related to features or effects below the surface.
  • n. Memory that has been erased and re-written.
  • n. Something bearing the traces of an earlier, erased form.
  • v. To scrape clean, as in parchment, for reuse.
  • v. On paper: to reuse, often by erasure or change of pen direction or color. Especially fueled by Earth Day.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A parchment which has been written upon twice, the first writing having been erased to make place for the second. The erasures of ancient writings were usually carried on in monasteries, to allow the production of ecclesiastical texts, such as copies of church services and lives of the saints. The difficulty of recovering the original text varied with the process used to prepare the parchment for a fresh writing; the original texts on parchments which had been washed with lime-water and dried were easily recovered by a chemical process, but those erased by scraping the parchment and bleaching are difficult to interpret. Most of the manuscripts underlying the palimpsests that have been revived are fragmentary, but some are of great historical value. One Syriac version of the Four Gospels was discovered in 1895 in St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai by Mrs. Agnes Smith Lewis. See also the notes below.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A parchment or other writing-material from which one writing has been erased or rubbed out to make room for another; hence, the new writing or manuscript upon such a parchment.
  • n. Any inscribed slat, etc., particularly a monumental brass, which has been turned and engraved with new inscriptions and devices on the reverse side.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Latin palimpsēstum, from Greek palimpsēston, neuter of palimpsēstos, scraped again : palin, again, + psēn, to scrape.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Latin palimpsēstus, from Ancient Greek παλίμψηστος (palímpsestos, "scraped again").



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  • This word is sprinkled liberally throughout Academia. My mom loathes it; academic boyfriend loves it. It makes me think of overly plump animals floating around like blimps.

    June 10, 2015

  • so wordnik is digital cyber potential palimpsest

    not to mention our dna that has a history of our

    comings and shortcomings

    February 28, 2014

  • one of the greatest words.  love the synonym too : codex rescriptus

    February 28, 2014

  • Holmes used this word when he and Mycroft were reading something.

    June 13, 2012

  • Interesting word. I've also heard it used (perhaps incorrectly) to describe the imprint left on the following page when something is written on the current page.

    May 18, 2012

  • Nice connection, fbharjo! Now I like this word even more, and I have a way to remember what it means.

    May 5, 2011

  • each heartbeat is a clean slate! now and ever. you are intuit, blafferty!

    May 5, 2011

  • This word sounds like the feeling of holding a still-beating heart in your hand. Not that I would know.

    May 5, 2011

  • Interesting usage on landaulet.

    May 1, 2009

  • We were always told, in Landscape Archaeology, that a palimpsest was the whole landscape, in its infinite complexity, spread out before us.

    April 2, 2009

  • I like a plimpsest much better.

    January 13, 2009

  • "All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary." 1984 by George Orwell

    October 7, 2008

  • This reminds me of powder pimpalimpimp... for some reason...

    October 1, 2008

  • I think of the country as a kind of palimpsest scrawled over with the comings and goings of people, the erasure of time already in process even as the marks of passage are put down. Wendell Berry "A Native Hill"

    July 19, 2008

  • Used in Italian (palinsesto) simply to mean the programming of TV shows.

    December 28, 2007

  • My favorite word in the English language, thanks to Umberto Eco.

    December 7, 2007

  • Discovered in The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

    January 8, 2007