Wordy Wednesday

Mrs. Monksleigh was the relict of a military man, who had left her with six children and a competence judged by his family to be respectable, and by her, inadequate.

Bath Tangle, Georgette Heyer

Wait!  She was something surviving from an earlier time?  Is Ms Heyer calling Mrs. Monksleigh old?  I think I had better look this up!

Actually, I should FINALLY look this up – this was about the third time I read Bath Tangle, and the word ‘relict’ caught my attention at last.  After all, isn’t it spelled ‘relic’?

Well now, it depends on what you are trying to say.  Do you mean something that has survived from an earlier time, but is now out of date, or has sentimental or historical value, or belonged to a saint or holy person?  That’s a ‘relic.’


Relict (with a ‘T’), on the other hand, has a different meaning, and the meaning depends on the discipline or science that is using it!  First, Mrs. Monksleigh:

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a relict is “(n) “a widow,” mid-15c., from Old French relict, fem. relicte “person or thing left behind” (especially a widow) and directly from Medieval Latin relicta “a widow,” noun use of fem. of relictus”abandoned, left behind,” past participle adjective from Latin relinquere “to leave behind” (see relinquish).


But digging further, I discovered on Wikipedia, the following definitions:

relict is a surviving remnant of a natural phenomenon.

  • In biology a relict (or relic) is an organism that at an earlier time was abundant in a large area but now occurs at only one or a few small areas.
  • In ecology, an ecosystem which originally ranged over a large expanse, but is now narrowly confined, may be termed a relict.
  • In geology, the term relict refers to structures or minerals from a parent rock that did not undergo metamorphosis when the surrounding rock did, or to rock that survived a destructive geologic process.
  • In agronomy, a relict crop is a crop which was previously grown extensively, but is now only used in one limited region, or a small number of isolated regions.
  • In history (as revealed in DNA testing), a relict population refers to an ancient people in an area who have been largely supplanted by a later group of migrants and their descendants.
  • In real estate lawrelictionis the gradual recession of water from its usual high-water mark so that the newly uncovered land becomes the property of the adjoining riparian property owner.

Other uses:

  • In addition, relict was an ancient term still used in colonial (British) America and England of that era, now archaic, for a widow. It came to be a generic or collective term for widows and widowers.
  • In historical linguistics, a relict is a word that is a survivor of a form or forms that are otherwise archaic.

Who knew one word could cover so much ground?  And that ‘relict ‘ is a relict word, surviving from centuries past! And leave it to those biologists to further compound the confusion by accepting both words as having the same meaning!

So, if you are an archaeologist, I hope that you dig up some stunning relics for the world’s museums.  But please don’t dig up the ‘poor’ relict widow, Mrs. Monksleigh.  After all, she might not like museums.

#etymology #weekly


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