See more synonyms for atavistic on
  1. 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 formsat·a·vis·ti·cal·ly, adverb Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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
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.

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