- The reappearance of an ancestral characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence; a throwback.
- 1904, Jack London, chapter 10, in The Sea-Wolf (Macmillan’s Standard Library), New York, N.Y.: Grosset & Dunlap, OCLC 169815:
- 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. He was not immoral, but merely unmoral.
- The recurrence or reversion to a past behaviour, method, characteristic or style after a long period of absence.
- 1938, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Ibid:
- Upon the death of Theodoric in 526, Ibidus retired from public life to compose his celebrated work (whose pure Ciceronian style is as remarkable a case of classic atavism as is the verse of Claudius Claudianus, who flourished a century before Ibidus); but he was later recalled to scenes of pomp to act as court rhetorician for Theodatus, nephew of Theodoric.
- (sociology) Reversion to past primitive behavior, especially violence.
- 1986, Doyle, Michael, 'Liberalism and World Politics':
- "...he traces the roots of objectless imperialism to three sources, each an atavism. Modern imperialism, according to Schumpeter, resulted from the combined impact of a "war machine", warlike instincts, and export monopolism".
Can be used both positively, to refer to past or ancestral characteristics, or pejoratively, referring specifically to past primitive characteristics.
A rather formal term; in popular speech the circumlocution skip a generation is often used for traits that occur after a generation of absence.
atavism n (uncountable)