[ at-uh-viz-uhm ]
See synonyms for atavism on
  1. Biology.

    • the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations.

    • an individual embodying such a reversion.

  2. reversion to an earlier type; throwback.

Origin of atavism

First recorded in 1825–35; from Latin atav(us) “great-great-great grandfather; remote ancestor, forefather” (at-, akin to atta familiar name for a grandfather, “grampa” + avus “grandfather, ancestor”) + -ism

Other words from atavism

  • at·a·vist, noun

Words Nearby atavism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use atavism in a sentence

  • The instinct of love is, I suppose, so fiercely primitive in us that under its tyranny we are subjected to some moral atavism.

    The Wasted Generation | Owen Johnson
  • Besides, I've got a lake up there in which we can indulge in a little atavism to the fish stage of evolution.

    Islands of Space | John W Campbell

British Dictionary definitions for atavism


/ (ˈætəˌvɪzəm) /

  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

Origin of atavism

C19: from French atavisme, from Latin atavus strictly: great-grandfather's grandfather, probably from atta daddy + avus grandfather

Derived forms of atavism

  • atavist, noun
  • atavic (əˈtævɪk), adjective

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