[ev-uh-loo-shuhn or, esp. British, ee-vuh-]
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  1. any process of formation or growth; development: the evolution of a language; the evolution of the airplane.
  2. a product of such development; something evolved: The exploration of space is the evolution of decades of research.
  3. Biology. change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.
  4. a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure or institutions.
  5. a motion incomplete in itself, but combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action, as in a machine.
  6. a pattern formed by or as if by a series of movements: the evolutions of a figure skater.
  7. an evolving or giving off of gas, heat, etc.
  8. Mathematics. the extraction of a root from a quantity.Compare involution(def 8).
  9. a movement or one of a series of movements of troops, ships, etc., as for disposition in order of battle or in line on parade.
  10. any similar movement, especially in close order drill.

Origin of evolution

1615–25; < Latin ēvolūtiōn- (stem of ēvolūtiō) an unrolling, opening, equivalent to ēvolūt(us) (see evolute) + -iōn- -ion
Related formsev·o·lu·tion·al, adjectiveev·o·lu·tion·al·ly, adverban·ti·ev·o·lu·tion, adjectivean·ti·ev·o·lu·tion·al, adjectivean·ti·ev·o·lu·tion·al·ly, adverbde-ev·o·lu·tion, nounnon·ev·o·lu·tion·al, adjectivenon·ev·o·lu·tion·al·ly, adverbpre·ev·o·lu·tion·al, adjectivepro·ev·o·lu·tion, adjectiveun·ev·o·lu·tion·al, adjective

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for evolution


  1. biology a gradual change in the characteristics of a population of animals or plants over successive generations: accounts for the origin of existing species from ancestors unlike themSee also natural selection
  2. a gradual development, esp to a more complex formthe evolution of modern art
  3. the act of throwing off, as heat, gas, vapour, etc
  4. a pattern formed by a series of movements or something similar
  5. an algebraic operation in which the root of a number, expression, etc, is extractedCompare involution (def. 6)
  6. military an exercise carried out in accordance with a set procedure or plan
Derived Formsevolutionary or evolutional, adjective

Word Origin for evolution

C17: from Latin ēvolūtiō an unrolling, from ēvolvere to evolve
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 evolution

1620s, "an opening of what was rolled up," from Latin evolutionem (nominative evolutio) "unrolling (of a book)," noun of action from evolvere (see evolve).

Used in various senses in medicine, mathematics, and general use, including "growth to maturity and development of an individual living thing" (1660s). Modern use in biology, of species, first attested 1832 by Scottish geologist Charles Lyell. Charles Darwin used the word only once, in the closing paragraph of "The Origin of Species" (1859), and preferred descent with modification, in part because evolution already had been used in the 18c. homunculus theory of embryological development (first proposed under this name by Bonnet, 1762), in part because it carried a sense of "progress" not found in Darwin's idea. But Victorian belief in progress prevailed (along with brevity), and Herbert Spencer and other biologists popularized evolution.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

evolution in Medicine


[ĕv′ə-lōōshən, ē′və-]
  1. A continuing process of change from one state or condition to another or from one form to another.
  2. The theory that groups of organisms change with passage of time, mainly as a result of natural selection, so that descendants differ morphologically and physiologically from their ancestors.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

evolution in Science


  1. The process by which species of organisms arise from earlier life forms and undergo change over time through natural selection. The modern understanding of the origins of species is based on the theories of Charles Darwin combined with a modern knowledge of genetics based on the work of Gregor Mendel. Darwin observed there is a certain amount of variation of traits or characteristics among the different individuals belonging to a population. Some of these traits confer fitness-they allow the individual organism that possesses them to survive in their environment better than other individuals who do not possess them and to leave more offspring. The offspring then inherit the beneficial traits, and over time the adaptive trait spreads through the population. In twentieth century, the development of the the science of genetics helped explain the origin of the variation of the traits between individual organisms and the way in which they are passed from generation to generation. This basic model of evolution has since been further refined, and the role of genetic drift and sexual selection in the evolution of populations has been recognized. See also natural selection sexual selection. See Notes at adaptation Darwin.
  2. A process of development and change from one state to another, as of the universe in its development through time.
A Closer Look: Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection assumed that tiny adaptations occur in organisms constantly over millions of years. Gradually, a new species develops that is distinct from its ancestors. In the 1970s, however, biologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould proposed that evolution by natural selection may not have been such a smooth and consistent process. Based on fossils from around the world that showed the abrupt appearance of new species, Eldredge and Gould suggested that evolution is better described through punctuated equilibrium. That is, for long periods of time species remain virtually unchanged, not even gradually adapting. They are in equilibrium, in balance with the environment. But when confronted with environmental challenges-sudden climate change, for example-organisms adapt quite quickly, perhaps in only a few thousand years. These active periods are punctuations, after which a new equilibrium exists and species remain stable until the next punctuation.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

evolution in Culture


A theory first proposed in the nineteenth century by Charles Darwin, according to which the Earth's species have changed and diversified through time under the influence of natural selection. Life on Earth is thought to have evolved in three stages. First came chemical evolution, in which organic molecules (see also organic molecule) were formed. This was followed by the development of single cells capable of reproducing themselves. This stage led to the development of complex organisms capable of sexual reproduction. Evolution is generally accepted as fact by scientists today, although debates continue over the precise mechanisms involved in the process. (See mutation, punctuated equilibrium, and creation science.)


The first cell is thought to have been formed when the Earth was less than a billion years old.
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.