Atavist – Definition & Meaning

The term “atavist” may not be a commonly used word in everyday conversations, but it is a term that has its place in the English language. It is a term that has been used in different contexts, and its meaning has evolved over time. In this article, we will explore the definition, origin, meaning in different dictionaries, associations, synonyms, antonyms, and example sentences of the word “atavist.”


The term “atavist” is used to describe someone or something that exhibits traits or characteristics that are reminiscent of an earlier era. It can also be used to describe a person who has a physical or behavioral resemblance to their ancestors. In biology, an atavist is a trait that reappears after being absent for several generations.


The word “atavist” is derived from the Latin word “atavus,” which means “ancestor.” The term was first used in the mid-19th century by the French anthropologist Paul Broca to describe the reappearance of ancestral traits in modern humans.

Meaning in different dictionaries

The meaning of “atavist” is generally consistent across different dictionaries. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “one who exhibits characteristics of an earlier time and culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a throwback to an earlier type; a reversion to an ancestral characteristic.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a person or animal that has a physical or behavioral characteristic that is similar to one that existed in an earlier period of its history.”


The term “atavist” is often associated with the concept of evolution and the idea that certain traits can be passed down through generations. It is also associated with the idea of nostalgia and a longing for a simpler time.


Some synonyms of “atavist” include throwback, reversion, relic, vestige, and throwback.


Antonyms of “atavist” include modern, contemporary, current, and present-day.

The same root words

The word “atavist” shares its root with other words that also have the Latin word “atavus” as their origin. These words include “atavism,” which refers to the reappearance of ancestral traits, and “atavistic,” which describes something that is related to or reminiscent of an earlier era.

Example Sentences

  • The artist’s work was an atavist representation of a bygone era.
  • The politician’s views were seen as atavistic by many of his younger supporters.
  • The discovery of the atavist trait in the species was a surprise to the researchers.
  • The old building was an atavistic reminder of the city’s history.
  • The musician’s style was an atavistic throwback to the blues music of the early 20th century.
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