When I was pregnant, I saw pregnant women everywhere. The world seemed full to bursting with round bellies. In my post-pregnancy life, I seldom see pregnant women anywhere. Likewise, when my husband and I talked recently about how we like a certain kind of car, suddenly I started seeing those cars all around me. There’re everywhere! I hadn’t noticed them before!
At the end of 2020, I encountered a word I’m pretty sure I’d never seen in more than four decades of reading. It was in A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I’m almost certain I’d never been confronted with this word because I had to look it up: palimpsest. It is a manuscript that’s been written on more than once, and where the earlier writing hasn’t been completely erased; the previous writing is still visible and legible under the more recent text, but not without some effort.
After coming across this unusual word at the end of 2020, I’ve read it in at least three other books in 2021. Each time I come across it, I am surprised to see it. I hadn’t run into this word in 40 years, and now I’ve seen it four times in less than one.
Today in the car, I listened to a podcast episode where a paleontologist talked about how the history of the earth can be read in the layers of its crust. I thought of a palimpsest, now that I know the word. Then the paleontologist said, “Some pages are overwritten, creating difficult-to-decipher palimpsests of long-gone landscapes.”
As with every time after the first, I was excited and surprised — there it is again!
Could it be that I have actually encountered this word in the years leading up to 2020 and just didn’t bother to look it up? That seems the most likely explanation, that I just didn’t notice it before. I have a hard time accepting that possibility; surely I’d remember and notice that word. Whatever the case, I certainly notice it now.