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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Atavism \At"a*vism\, n. [L. atavus an ancestor, fr. avus a grandfather.]

    1. The recurrence, or a tendency to a recurrence, of the original type of a species in the progeny of its varieties; resemblance to remote rather than to near ancestors; reversion to the original form.

    2. (Biol.) The recurrence of any peculiarity or disease of an ancestor in a subsequent generation, after an intermission for a generation or two.

      Now and then there occur cases of what physiologists call atavism, or reversion to an ancestral type of character.
      --J. Fiske

  1. recurrence of or reversion to a past style, outlook, approach, or manner.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1833, from French atavisme, attested by 1820s, from Latin atavus "ancestor, forefather," from at- perhaps here meaning "beyond" + avus "grandfather," from PIE *awo- "adult male relative other than the father" (see uncle).


n. 1 The reappearance of an ancestral characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence. 2 The recurrence or reversion to a past behaviour, method, characteristic or style after a long period of absence. 3 (context sociology English) Reversion to past primitive behavior, especially violence.


n. a reappearance of an earlier characteristic [syn: reversion, throwback]


In biology, an atavism is an evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing which had disappeared generations before. Atavisms can occur in several ways. One way is when genes for previously existing phenotypical features are preserved in DNA, and these become expressed through a mutation that either knock out the overriding genes for the new traits or make the old traits override the new one. A number of traits can vary as a result of shortening of the fetal development of a trait ( neoteny) or by prolongation of the same. In such a case, a shift in the time a trait is allowed to develop before it is fixed can bring forth an ancestral phenotype.

In the social sciences, atavism can also describe a cultural tendency of reversion—for example, people in the modern era reverting to the ways of thinking and acting of a former time. The word atavism is derived from the Latinatavus. An atavus is a great-great-great-grandfather or, more generally, an ancestor.

Atavism (album)

Atavism is the fifth studio album released by the American heavy metal band Slough Feg (formerly The Lord Weird Slough Feg). A vinyl edition was also produced by Forest Moon Special Products in a limited print of 500. The title of the album: atavism, is the tendency to revert to ancestral type. In biology, an atavism is an evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing which had disappeared generations before. Thus the appearance of primordial humans in a cave on the cover.

Usage examples of "atavism".

Few humans had ever visited them, and fewer had returned, for while the citified Blueskins lacked some of the unpleasant habits of their savage brethren, they were inclined to be touchy and had some unpleasant tendencies toward atavism.

He was too focused, too direct, too impetuous and emotional, a living fossil atavism in a gentler and easier society.

They serve the men who lead the commercial life, give to their sons somnambulistic educations, preach that sleep-walking is the only way to walk, and that the persons who walk otherwise are atavisms or anarchists.

Many landholders had wisely kept the settlements small and widely dispersed, but Joachim Sardili, the kindhearted buffoon, had allowed the hooded atavisms to settle wherever they wished.

With the disappearance of nations, their respective nationalisms will also disappear, and such notions as national defense, or espionage, or national security will just stop to make any sense, and will start looking like atavisms inherited from the Stone Age.

Now it is probable that some of us will have been so talked by the more superstitious Bayreuth pilgrims into regarding Die Gotterdammerung as the mighty climax to a mighty epic, more Wagnerian than all the other three sections put together, as not to dare notice this startling atavism, especially if we find the trio-conjurations more exhilarating than the metaphysical discourses of Wotan in the three true music dramas of The Ring.

He savored the instant of complete atavism and then he became coldly practical.

Another would plead atavism, and say he got his religious instincts from his great-grandfather, as some do their complexion or their temper.

He was, so he admitted, and her heart filled the gaps her intellect failed to bridge, a throwback, an atavism, a creature unable to catch the progress of his kind.

Their thinking is, in fact, far less a discovery than a recognition, a remembering, a return and a homecoming to a remote, primordial, an inclusive houschold of the soul, out of which those concepts grew originall: philosophizing is to this extent a kind of atavism of the highest order.

It's one of those neoprimitive colonies founded by lunatics with weird ideas, atavism trapped in an ideological feedback loop.