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rel·​ict ˈre-likt How to pronounce relict (audio)
: widow
: a surviving species of an otherwise extinct group of organisms
also : a remnant of a formerly widespread species that persists in an isolated area
: a relief feature or rock remaining after other parts have disappeared
: something left unchanged


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: of, relating to, or being a relict
relict populations

Did you know?

The oldest English sense of "relict" is extinct-or at least obsolete. In the 16th century, relict meant "an object esteemed and venerated because of association with a saint or martyr," but that meaning is now covered by "relic," a related word that can also refer to something left behind after decay or disappearance. "Relict" was also used to refer to a widow at one time, but now that sense is more or less limited to legal uses. It seems fitting that "relict" has outdated senses; after all, it derives ultimately from the Latin verb relinquere, meaning "to leave behind."

Examples of relict in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Last year, the team found a relict glacier in the geologically young region, a hopeful sign for future human habitation on a cold, arid, generally inhospitable world. Isaac Schultz / Gizmodo, Quartz, 18 Mar. 2024 Just three relict groups of hunter-gatherers--the Semang Negritos of the Malay Peninsula, the Andaman Islanders, and the Veddoid Negritos of Sri Lanka--remain to give us any clue as to what those peoples were like. Jared Diamond, Discover Magazine, 11 Nov. 2019 Unable to cross the straits these relict groups eventually went extinct. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 11 Mar. 2011 The implication is that D is a relict of a large set of populations which have slowly been absorbed by expansions of other groups. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 16 Dec. 2010 What was once believed to be the largest asteroid has now been revealed as a relict protoplanet that once had a since-frozen over ocean. John Wenz, Discover Magazine, 3 July 2018 The plant is a relict, an ancient hanger-on from a time just after the death of the dinosaurs, when the Pyrenees enjoyed a tropical climate. Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 12 Sep. 2012 The site is located in close proximity to a substantial relict lake and indicates that Middle Paleolithic hominins penetrated deeply into the Arabian Peninsula to inhabit landscapes vegetated by grasses and some trees. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 16 May 2011 The 2019 expedition to the site showed an unusually large field of relict, or primitive, mineral deposits. Tim Newcomb, Popular Mechanics, 4 Nov. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'relict.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



in sense 1, from Middle English relicte, from Late Latin relicta, from Latin, feminine of relictus, past participle of relinquere; in senses 2 & 3, from relict residual, adjective, from Latin relictus

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1587, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of relict was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near relict

Cite this Entry

“Relict.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: widow
: a small surviving group of a formerly widespread plant or animal species that continues to exist in an isolated area

More from Merriam-Webster on relict

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