rel·​ict | \ ˈre-likt How to pronounce relict (audio) \

Definition of relict

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : widow
2 : a surviving species of an otherwise extinct group of organisms also : a remnant of a formerly widespread species that persists in an isolated area
3a : a relief feature or rock remaining after other parts have disappeared
b : something left unchanged



Definition of relict (Entry 2 of 2)

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

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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 It seems fitting that "relict" has outdated senses; after all, it derives ultimately from the Latin verb relinquere, meaning "to leave behind."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: Noun Perseverance is the tip of the spear in humanity’s grand quest to find traces of a relict Martian biosphere. Nadia Drake, Scientific American, 17 Feb. 2022 One theory is that the beetles are what scientists call a relict, a survivor from an earlier, more primitive time. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, 16 July 2019 For wildlife sightings just outside the museum, look out for grey foxes, desert cottontails, and relict leopard frogs. Kim Windyka, Daily Intelligencer, 16 June 2018 Just north of downtown, the Roosevelt District is an amalgam of older, relict neighborhoods. Michael Kiefer, azcentral, 7 Apr. 2018 Only upon understanding their backstory do these relict cityscapes become rational and elucidating. Richard Campanella,, 10 May 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'relict.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of relict


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1587, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for relict


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

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

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relic of the past



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Cite this Entry

“Relict.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Aug. 2022.

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