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[at-uh-vis-tik] /ˌæt əˈvɪs tɪk/
of, relating to, or characterized by atavism; reverting to or suggesting the characteristics of a remote ancestor or primitive type.
Origin of atavistic
First recorded in 1870-75; atav(ism) + -istic
Related forms
atavistically, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for atavistic
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is only an atavistic phenomenon, the return to a former state.

    Criminal Man Gina Lombroso-Ferrero
  • The criminal is an atavistic being, a relic of a vanished race.

    Criminal Man Gina Lombroso-Ferrero
  • This is of great importance in view of the atavistic origin of crime.

    Criminal Man Gina Lombroso-Ferrero
  • Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy is a dangerous, atavistic, evil genius.

    Gun for Hire Dallas McCord Reynolds
  • Perhaps it is atavistic—this desire to rest and swing in a hamaca.

    Edge of the Jungle William Beebe
  • Thus there was no progeny to inherit their atavistic tendencies.

  • Because she was terrified, the same sort of atavistic process was at work in her.

    Nightmare Planet Murray Leinster
British Dictionary definitions for atavistic


of or relating to reversion to a former or more primitive type
Derived Forms
atavistically, adverb
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 atavistic

"pertaining to atavism," 1847; see atavism + -ic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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atavistic in Science
Relating to an inherited trait that reappears in an individual after being absent from a strain of organism for several generations. Atavistic traits were formerly thought to be throwbacks to ancestral types but are now known to be due to the inheritance of a pair of recessive genes.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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