Understanding the Idiom: "under erasure" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: Perhaps a calque of French sous rature

The idiom “under erasure” is a concept that has been widely used in philosophy, literature, and linguistics. It refers to a particular way of using language where a word or phrase is crossed out but still visible, indicating that it should be read with caution or as if it were not there at all.

This technique was first introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his work “Of Grammatology” and has since become an important tool for understanding how language works. By crossing out words, we can draw attention to their limitations and the ways in which they fail to capture the full complexity of what we are trying to express.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “under erasure”

The idiom “under erasure” has a long history that spans several centuries. Its origins can be traced back to the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who first introduced the concept in his book “Of Grammatology”. However, the idea behind this phrase can be found in earlier works of philosophy and literature.

The Philosophical Roots

The concept of “under erasure” is closely linked to deconstructionism, a philosophical movement that emerged in the 1960s. Deconstructionism aims to uncover hidden meanings and contradictions within texts by analyzing their underlying assumptions and structures. In this context, “erasure” refers to the act of crossing out or deleting words or phrases that are problematic or ambiguous.

The Literary Influence

The use of “under erasure” as an idiomatic expression can also be seen in literary works such as those by Friedrich Nietzsche and Samuel Beckett. Both authors used strikethroughs to indicate words or phrases that they wanted to challenge or question. This technique became known as “Nietzschean deletion” or “Beckettian redaction”.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “under erasure”

The idiom “under erasure” has been widely used in various fields, including philosophy, literature, and linguistics. It is a term that describes a particular type of writing technique where a word or phrase is crossed out but still visible to the reader. This technique aims to convey a sense of uncertainty or ambiguity about the meaning of the word or phrase.

In literature, “under erasure” can be used to challenge traditional meanings and interpretations of words. By crossing out a word and leaving it visible, authors can create multiple layers of meaning that require readers to engage with their work on a deeper level.

In philosophy, “under erasure” can be used as a tool for deconstruction. By questioning the meaning of words and phrases through this technique, philosophers aim to reveal underlying assumptions and biases in language.

In linguistics, “under erasure” can be used as an analytical tool for studying language use. Linguists may use this technique to identify patterns in how certain words are used across different contexts.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “under erasure”


  • Subject to revision
  • In doubt
  • Uncertain
  • Potentially inaccurate
  • To be reevaluated


  • Certainly true or accurate
  • Factual and reliable information
  • Confirmed knowledge or understanding of a concept or idea.
  • Set in stone; unchangeable.

The term “under erasure” originated from French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction. It refers to placing a word under brackets to indicate its ambiguity and problematic nature while still using it in discourse. This technique allows for questioning traditional meanings and assumptions about language.

In contemporary culture, the phrase is often used in academic writing, literary criticism, and philosophy. It signifies an acknowledgment of uncertainty or incompleteness in one’s argument or interpretation of a text.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “under erasure”

Exercise 1: Identifying Examples

The first exercise is to identify examples of “under erasure” in various texts. Look for instances where a word or phrase is crossed out but still visible, indicating that it is being used with reservations or doubts. Analyze these examples and try to understand the context in which they are being used.

Example: In Jacques Derrida’s essay “Force of Law”, he uses the phrase “justice” under erasure to indicate his skepticism towards its meaning and application.

Exercise 2: Writing Under Erasure

The second exercise is to practice writing under erasure yourself. Choose a word or phrase that you have reservations about using, and write it down with a line through it. Then, write an explanation of why you have doubts about using this term.

Note: This exercise can be challenging as it requires introspection and critical thinking. However, by practicing writing under erasure, you will become more comfortable with expressing your doubts and uncertainties.

By completing these practical exercises, you will gain a deeper understanding of the idiom “under erasure” and develop your ability to use it effectively in your writing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “under erasure”

Avoid Overusing the Idiom

The first mistake to avoid is overusing the idiom “under erasure”. While it can be a useful tool for indicating uncertainty or ambiguity, using it too frequently can make your writing difficult to read and understand. Instead, use other language tools such as qualifiers or hedging phrases to convey nuance without relying solely on “under erasure”.

Use Correctly in Context

Another common mistake when using “under erasure” is not using it correctly in context. The phrase should only be used when there is an inherent contradiction or tension between two meanings within a single word or concept. Using it in other contexts can confuse readers and dilute its intended meaning.

Tip: Before using “under erasure”, ask yourself if there is truly a contradiction or tension present that requires this specific phrasing.

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