late 14c., "alleviation of distress, hunger, sickness, etc; state of being relieved; that which mitigates or removes" (pain, grief, evil, etc.)," from Anglo-French relif, from Old French relief "assistance," literally "a raising, that which is lifted;" from stressed stem of relever (see relieve).
The meaning "aid to impoverished persons" is attested from c. 1400, from 19c. especially of assistance by governments; that of "deliverance of a besieged town" is from c. 1400. The word was used earlier in English as "that which is left over or left behind," also "feudal payment to an overlord made by an heir upon taking possession of an estate" (both c. 1200).
in sculpture, architecture, etc., "projection of figure or design from the flat surface on which it is formed," c. 1600, from French relief, from Italian rilievo, from rilevare "to raise," from Latin relevare "to raise, lighten" (see relieve). In physical geography, "the form of the surface of any part of the earth" (by 1842), especially in relief map.
Model Mapping.—The plan of representing countries in relief is gaining ground, particularly in Germany. [William Richard Hamilton, president's address to the Royal Geographical Society of London, May 23, 1842]
updated on June 25, 2021