Word: palimpsest

Pronunciation: PA-ləm(p)-sest

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Fun fact about me: I’m currently working from home as a freelance editor and proofreader. Recently, while researching the different types of editing, I came across an interesting word sometimes used for manuscripts that have been rewritten and revised a few times. Many authors can surely relate: when your writing has been so heavily edited that only traces of the original draft remain, you now have a “palimpsest” on your hands!

A “palimpsest” is a manuscript or other piece of writing material from which original writing has been erased to make way for new writing, but on which traces of the original work remain. The word arose in the mid 17th century and comes from the Greek adjective palímpsēstos, meaning “scraped again”. This adjective comprises two roots: the adverb pálin “again” and the verb psáō “to rub smooth”.

Note that while the word “palimpsest” usually refers to reused manuscript paper, it can also be used to mean “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form”. In the editing world, this can double as a definition for a written work that’s gone through enough revisions to change most of the rough draft. If you really want to get creative, you can try to find a use for the adjective form “palimpsestic”, which means “relating to palimpsests”. If you spend much of your time writing and rewriting manuscripts (or have your characters do the same), “palimpsest” is a good word to know!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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