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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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for atavist
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Environment cannot make a model citizen of the "born criminal," or atavist.

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • If the atavist is "wicked," the shark, and the wolf, and the adder are "wicked."

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • For it is not a fault, but a misfortune, to be born an atavist.

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • But, if the prisoner is an atavist it is his nature to be furious and cruel.

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • Say the prisoner is an atavist; a man bred back to the beasts.

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • In a few generations the atavist and the genius have bred back to the average level.

    Not Guilty Robert Blatchford
  • It puts to death with the same ruthless equality the prophet and the atavist.

    The Joyful Heart Robert Haven Schauffler
British Dictionary definitions for atavist


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 atavist



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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atavist 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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