[at-uh-viz-uh m]
See more synonyms for atavism on
  1. Biology.
    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.
  2. 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 formsat·a·vist, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for atavism

Historical Examples of atavism

  • I used the word 'atavism' to mean a reversion to the primitive.

    Measure for a Loner

    James Judson Harmon

  • Can I explain, can anyone explain, the mysterious vagaries of atavism?

  • Altogether a good deal of nonsense has been written about atavism.


    William J. Robinson

  • I would not omit to mention also the law of Atavism, in this discussion of heredity.

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

    Skippy Bedelle

    Owen Johnson

British Dictionary definitions for atavism


  1. the recurrence in a plant or animal of certain primitive characteristics that were present in an ancestor but have not occurred in intermediate generations
  2. reversion to a former or more primitive type
Derived Formsatavist, nounatavic (əˈtævɪk), adjective

Word Origin for atavism

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

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

atavism in Medicine


  1. The appearance of characteristics that are presumed to have been present in some remote ancestor; reversion to an earlier biological type.
Related formsata•vist′a•vistic adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.