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[at-uh-viz-uh m] /ˈæt əˌvɪz əm/
  1. the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations.
  2. an individual embodying such a reversion.
reversion to an earlier type; throwback.
Origin of atavism
1825-35; < Latin atav(us) remote ancestor (at-, akin to atta familiar name for a grandfather + avus grandfather, forefather) + -ism
Related forms
atavist, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for atavism
Historical Examples
  • It must explain all the facts which constitute what is known as atavism.

    The Making of Species Douglas Dewar
  • I used the word 'atavism' to mean a reversion to the primitive.

    Measure for a Loner James Judson Harmon
  • An atavism from "the old border riders" of Scotland shone through the boy, and he took on quickly.

    Crooked Trails Frederic Remington
  • Can I explain, can anyone explain, the mysterious vagaries of atavism?

    Uncanny Tales Various
  • Bohr was an atavism—they caught him trying to 'take over' there, and banished him.

    Man of Many Minds E. Everett Evans
  • Altogether a good deal of nonsense has been written about atavism.

    Woman William J. Robinson
  • These he "threw back" to his grandfather—not a fortunate illustration of the biological principle of atavism.

    William the Third H. D. Traill
  • I would not omit to mention also the law of atavism, in this discussion of heredity.

  • Less marked cases set down to atavism may be instances merely of normal regression.

  • For a short moment he hesitated but atavism and necessity were against him.

    Skippy Bedelle Owen Johnson
British Dictionary definitions for atavism


the recurrence in a plant or animal of certain primitive characteristics that were present in an ancestor but have not occurred in intermediate generations
reversion to a former or more primitive type
Derived Forms
atavist, noun
atavic (əˈtævɪk) adjective
Word Origin
C19: from French atavisme, from Latin atavus strictly: great-grandfather's grandfather, probably from atta daddy + avus grandfather
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for atavism

1833, from French atavisme, attested by 1820s, from Latin atavus "ancestor, forefather," from at- perhaps here meaning "beyond" + avus "grandfather," from PIE *awo- "adult male relative other than the father" (see uncle).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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atavism in Medicine

atavism at·a·vism (āt'ə-vĭz'əm)
The appearance of characteristics that are presumed to have been present in some remote ancestor; reversion to an earlier biological type.

at'a·vist n.
at'a·vis'tic adj.
at'a·vis'ti·cal·ly adv.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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