[ 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.

Nearby words

  1. atascadero,
  2. ataturk, kemal,
  3. atatürk,
  4. atatürk, kemal,
  5. atavic,
  6. atavistic,
  7. ataxia,
  8. ataxia telangiectasia,
  9. ataxiaphasia,
  10. ataxic

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. 2019

Examples from the Web for atavism

British Dictionary definitions for atavism


/ (ˈætəˌvɪzəm) /


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 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

Medicine definitions for atavism


[ ătə-vĭz′əm ]


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.