ne·​o·​te·​ny nē-ˈä-tə-nē How to pronounce neoteny (audio)
: retention of some larval or immature characters in adulthood
: attainment of sexual maturity during the larval stage
neotenic adjective

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The changes include neoteny, where juvenile appearance is preserved into adulthood. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, 8 Nov. 2016 There is some association with neoteny and the ability to regenerate. Fox News, 28 Oct. 2019 One memorable study begun in the Soviet Union in the 1950s found foxes that were bred for domesticable traits began exhibiting neoteny within just a few generations. Natasha Daly, National Geographic, 4 July 2019 Such features in adult humans and other animals — a phenomenon called neoteny — can coax strong emotions from us. Faye Flam, Twin Cities, 19 July 2019 Such features in adult humans and other animals - a phenomenon called neoteny - can coax strong emotions from us. Faye Flam,, 10 July 2019 Often, domestic animals, in contrast to their wild counterparts, exhibit a feature known as neoteny—the retention of juvenile traits like soft fur, floppy ears, and bigger heads relative to their body size. Natasha Daly, National Geographic, 4 July 2019 Humans are hopelessly drawn to neoteny—the kissable, squishable, button-nosed, big-eyed, irresistibility of babies—and your parents will generally have your back. Jeffrey Kluger, Time, 23 Apr. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'neoteny.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from German Neotenie, from Greek néos "young" + -o- -o- + teínein "to stretch, extend" + German -ie -y entry 2 — more at new entry 1, thin entry 1

Note: The word Neotenie was introduced by the German biologist Julius Kollmann (1834-1918) in "Das Ueberwintern von europäischen Frosch- und Tritonlarven und die Umwandlung des mexikanischen Axolotl," Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel, 7. Theil, 2. Heft (1884), p. 391. In explaining the coinage, Kollmann inaccurately glossed Greek teínein as "halten, hinhalten" ("hold, hold/put off"), perhaps through confusion with Latin tenēre "to hold."

First Known Use

1901, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of neoteny was in 1901

Dictionary Entries Near neoteny

Cite this Entry

“Neoteny.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Feb. 2023.

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