[ yoo-jen-iks ]
See synonyms for eugenics on
noun(used with a singular verb)
  1. the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by people presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics ) or encouraging reproduction by people presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics ).

Origin of eugenics

First recorded in 1880–85; see origin at eugenic, -ics

word story For eugenics

Modern eugenics was popularized by Sir Francis Galton in the late 1800s. In many cases, its methods have been entwined with prejudice. Selecting for desirable traits requires establishing what counts as desirable, and for some scientists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, people with disabilities, people in lower economic classes, and people belonging to any ethnic or racial minority group were automatically considered to be undesirable. In the United States, forced or coerced sterilizations were conducted throughout the first half of the 20th century, often targeting people with physical or mental disabilities, people who had committed crimes, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people, and other vulnerable groups. In Germany, eugenics was a crucial part of the Nazi Party's ideology. Because of this history of racism, ableism, classism, and other types of discrimination, eugenics is generally not studied or practiced within the scientific community today. The rise of genetic engineering, however, has brought new concerns to the conversation surrounding eugenics.

Words Nearby eugenics Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use eugenics in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for eugenics


/ (juːˈdʒɛnɪks) /

  1. (functioning as singular) the study of methods of improving the quality of the human race, esp by selective breeding

Origin of eugenics

C19: from Greek eugenēs well-born, from eu- + -genēs born; see -gen

Derived forms of eugenics

  • eugenic, adjective
  • eugenically, adverb
  • eugenicist, noun
  • eugenist (ˈjuːdʒənɪst), noun, 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

Cultural definitions for eugenics


[ (yooh-jen-iks) ]

The idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring.

Notes for eugenics

Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.