Definition of atavism
1a : recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombinationb : recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity architectural atavism
2 : an individual or character that manifests atavism : throwback He was a magnificent atavism, a man so purely primitive that he was of the type that came into the world before the development of the moral nature. — Jack London
atavisticplay \ˌa-tə-ˈvis-tik\ adjective
atavisticallyplay \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb
atavism was our Word of the Day on 03/30/2012. Hear the podcast!
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Recent Examples of atavism from the Web
Any account of the new American atavism has to take into account that the same system that produced Trump had immediately before given us the eight forward-looking years of Obama, who remains a far more popular figure than his successor.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atavism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Did You Know?
Atavism derives via French from Latin atavus, meaning "ancestor." Avus in Latin means "grandfather," and it's believed that the at is related to atta, a word for "daddy." Atavism is a term rooted in evolutionary study, referring to instances when an organism possesses traits closer to a more remote ancestor, rather than its own parents. That sense dates to the early part of the 19th century. The word's figurative sense is a more recent development. These days one might describe a building that looks like it's from an earlier era as an atavism, or (though some people might cringe at this) apply the word to activities like reading actual paper books in the age of electronics.
Medical Definition of atavism
1: recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination
2: an individual or character manifesting atavism : throwback
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