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Word of the Day
Monday, June 04, 2018

Definitions for atavism

  1. reversion to an earlier type; throwback.
  2. Biology. a. the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations. b. an individual embodying such a reversion.

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Citations for atavism
So much of their business was done via e-mail that the phone was almost unnecessary--a sort of quaint atavism that nobody thought to use first--but this morning the ringing had been ceaseless. Debra Ginsberg, What the Heart Remembers, 2012
Because the United States has proved successful in absorbing people from so many different backgrounds, the American political elite has, since the mid-20th century at least, tended to look on group identity as a kind of irrational atavism. Park MacDougald, "Can America's Two Tribes Learn to Live Together?" New York, April 19, 2018
Origin of atavism
1825-1835
The Latin noun behind the English noun atavism is atavus “great-great-great grandfather; ancestor.” Atavus is formed from atta “daddy,” a nursery word widespread in Indo-European languages, e.g., Greek átta “daddy,” and the possibly Gothic proper name Attila “little father, daddy.” The second element, avus “(maternal) grandfather,” also has cognates in other Indo-European languages, e.g., Old Prussian (an extinct Baltic language related to Latvian and Lithuanian) awis “uncle,” and, very familiar in English, those Scottish and Irish surnames beginning with “O’,” e.g., O’Connor “descended from Connor”). The Celtic “O’” comes from Irish ó “grandson,” from early Irish aue, and appearing as avi “descendant of” in ogham (an alphabet used in archaic Irish inscriptions from about the 5th century). Atavism entered English in the 19th century.