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Etymology of Palimpsest

October 9, 2011

The other day I came across the etymology of Palimpsest:

πάλιν — again

ψάω — to rub smooth

I thought this was pretty interesting and, of course, makes sense.


The OED provides a more detailed etymology, demonstrating the rich history of the term:

Etymology:  < classical Latin palimpsēstus paper or parchment which has been written on again < Hellenistic Greek παλίμψηστος scraped again, also παλίμψηστον a parchment from which writing has been erased < ancient Greek πάλιν again (see palinodia n.) + -ψηστός < ψῆν to rub smooth ( < the same Indo-European base as Sanskrit bhas- , psā- to crush, chew, devour) + epenthetic -σ- + -τός , suffix forming verbal adjectives. Compare Middle French, French palimpseste (1542 as noun, 1573 as adjective, both in isolated attestations; subsequently in spec. palaeographical sense from 1813 as noun, from 1817 as adjective), Italian palinsesto , (now rare) palimpsesto (in isolated attestations 16th–17th cent., and 1611 in Florio as †palimsesto ; subsequently in spec. palaeographical sense from the early 19th cent.).

Palimpsest can also be used as a verb.

One Comment leave one →
  1. linebrick permalink*
    October 10, 2011 6:38 am

    bizarre that for us, and if the OED is correct then for the Romans too, the word implies a second writing, whereas it seems to contain a second erasure in the Greek??

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