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From atavism +‎ -istic, from French atavisme, from Latin atavus (ancestor), from at + avus (grandfather).


  • (UK, US) IPA(key): /æt.əˈvɪs.tɪk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪstɪk


atavistic (comparative more atavistic, superlative most atavistic)

  1. (biology) of the recurrence of a trait reappearing after an absence of one or more generations due to a chance recombination of genes.
    • 1889, U.S. Office of Experiment Stations, Experiment Station Record
      Although the heterozygote gives it an atavistic appearance, the gene is not atavistic.
    • 1946, Reginald Ruggles Gates, Human genetics:
      Thus the gene which produced atavistic digits in the vigorous heterozygous pentadactyl condition is a lethal monster in the homozygous condition.
    • 2006, Roger E Stevenson, Judith G Hall, Human malformations and related anomalies
      Reactivation of a dormant atavistic gene could account for the abnormal costocoracoid ligament in humans.
  2. of a throwback or exhibiting primitivism.
    • 1934, Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer:
      They made me feel that I was alive in the nineteenth century, a sort of atavistic remnant, a romantic shred…
    • 1979, Norman Spinrad, A world between:
      The true perversion took place only in the privacy of her mind — the way she imagined an atavistic macho atop her when engaged in a mandatory contribution to the fetus-banks with some cretinous inept breeder…
    • 2000, Steven Heller, Marshall Arisman, The education of an illustrator
      Because I am atavistic enough to believe that drawing is the basic language of the illustrator, even as words comprise the basic language of the writer…
  3. relating to earlier, more primitive behavior that returns after an absence.


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