Try Our Apps


90s Slang You Should Know


[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. 2017.
Cite This Source
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
  • Can I explain, can anyone explain, the mysterious vagaries of atavism?

    Uncanny Tales Various
  • An atavism from "the old border riders" of Scotland shone through the boy, and he took on quickly.

    Crooked Trails Frederic Remington
  • I used the word 'atavism' to mean a reversion to the primitive.

    Measure for a Loner James Judson Harmon
  • 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
Cite This Source
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
Cite This Source
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.
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Difficulty index for atavism

Some English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for atavism

Scrabble Words With Friends

Nearby words for atavism