1 : a surviving species of an otherwise extinct group of organisms; also : a remnant of a formerly widespread species that persists in an isolated area
2 : something left unchanged
This rare plant is a relict of a once abundant genus.
"Northern flying squirrels still remain in the highest elevations of Virginia and are known as ice age relicts." From an article by Judy Molnar, Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), June 6, 2010
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 It seems fitting that "relict" has outdated senses; after all, it derives ultimately from the Latin verb "relinquere," meaning "to leave behind."
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Word Family Quiz
What relative of "relict" can mean "abandoned by the owner or occupant" or " run-down"? The answer is …