Definition of atavistic in English:



  • Relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.

    ‘atavistic fears and instincts’
    • ‘Indulging your atavistic selfish-gene impulse to replicate is neither rational nor moral.’
    • ‘So why must all men look like atavistic throwbacks?’
    • ‘What I find most difficult, as a fairly new father, is balancing the desire - atavistic, primitive, not altogether politically correct - to protect my son from the dangers of the world.’
    • ‘His fate evokes the atavistic fear of Nature's fury that has been with us since the dawn of history.’
    • ‘It brings out deeply hidden atavistic instincts buried deep within you and you begin to prowl in search of prey.’
    • ‘This atavistic fear of bodily hair is entirely compatible with a religion that sought to separate man from his animal origins.’
    • ‘One minor agony of growing up in Northern Ireland is the atavistic tugging of ethnic loyalty.’
    • ‘The dog has an atavistic relationship to humans.’
    • ‘Where once its atavistic sectarianism could consume what it regarded as its traditional enemies, now it is merely consuming itself.’
    • ‘Stripped of any political content, today's conflicts in Northern Ireland are now what many wrongly assumed them to be during the Troubles: base, atavistic, sectarian clashes.’
    • ‘What if the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales?’
    • ‘If anything, those two secular nationalist movements seem to be taking more radical and atavistic forms that reflect their ethnic and religious sources.’
    • ‘But the attempt to define and punish a category of speech as obscene is an atavistic vestige from a distant era.’
    • ‘Far from being atavistic, anti-progressive protectionists, Luddites were logical, rational people who saw financial ruin staring down the barrel at them.’
    • ‘It was these anomalies that first drew my father's attention to the close relationship between the criminal and the savage and made him suspect that criminal tendencies are of atavistic origin.’
    • ‘Religion is pictured as old-fashioned, atavistic and dogmatic, defending superstition by burning scientific martyrs at the stake.’
    • ‘If there was one striking thing about this performance, it is that it reminded the audience that live theatre is probably our most ancient art, which is why something deep and atavistic thrills when the curtain goes up.’
    • ‘In this context, extreme sports may reflect an atavistic desire to artificially inject risk into lives that seemed devoid of the excitement that only risk can provide.’
    • ‘We are engaging in an atavistic, primitive, natural activity which can be justified rationally and can be defended morally, but which is not in itself a rational or moral activity.’
    • ‘One of the other distressing points was his description of how this breaking down of civil society had left only those sorts of leaders who could call on atavistic or sectarian loyalties.’
    ancient, old, very old, age-old, antediluvian, timeless, dateless, archaic, long-standing, long-lived, time-worn, time-honoured
    View synonyms


Late 19th century: based on Latin atavus forefather + the adjectival suffix -istic.