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See more synonyms for atavistic on Thesaurus.com
  1. of, relating to, or characterized by atavism; reverting to or suggesting the characteristics of a remote ancestor or primitive type.
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Origin of atavistic

First recorded in 1870–75; atav(ism) + -istic
Related formsat·a·vis·ti·cal·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for atavistic

simple, naive, rudimentary, underdeveloped, unsophisticated, undeveloped, savage, natural, barbarian, raw, animal, wild, rough, austere, barbarous, childlike, fierce, ignorant, rude, uncivilized

Examples from the Web for atavistic

Contemporary Examples of atavistic

Historical Examples of atavistic

  • This is of great importance in view of the atavistic origin of crime.

    Criminal Man

    Gina Lombroso-Ferrero

  • 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

  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for atavistic


  1. of or relating to reversion to a former or more primitive type
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Derived Formsatavistically, 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

Word Origin and History for atavistic


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

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

atavistic in Science


  1. 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.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.