Keynotes + Seminars/Coaching   |   Public Speaking   |   Sales Training   |   Vocabulary Tips
Words of the Month   |   Book   |   About V.J. Singal   |   Contact Us   |   Blog   |   Home Page


printer friendly format


(pronounced at-uh-vis-tik)  adjective


from the noun atavism.
Atavism (pronounced at-uh-viz-um) = 1. the reappearance in an organism of a characteristic or trait that existed in a remote ancestor; recurrence of something ancient or ancestral. 2. reversion to a past type, behavior, habit, pursuit, point of view, way of doing (or dealing with) something, etc. 3. one that exhibits such a reversion; throwback.

Main Example

  • Chances are that your forebears loved murder mysteries, detective stories, and the like; that you, too, love such novels, and so will your progeny. So, what makes this form of writing timeless? Here’s how the late English crime writer P.D. James responded to this question during a 2005 NPR interview: “(Because) it meets rather atavistic, old-age interest. We are interested in murder. We are interested why people will step across the invisible line which separates a murderer from the rest of us.” And when the same question was put to Kenneth Branagh, director of the new movie “Murder on the Orient Express,” during a PBS interview earlier this month, his take was similar: “(Because) they awake in us the primitive, and the primal, and the atavistic...”

Workplace Examples

  • During the 1990s and 2000s, whenever I wanted to write something--say, an essay or a letter--I always went straight to my computer. But nowadays, and somewhat atavistically, I draft my important writings first in longhand on a notepad, just as I used to do before the advent of the PC. I find that sketching out a proposed email or other communication on paper produces a much clearer expression of my thoughts, while also causing less strain on the eye.
  • My husband and I have this desire--this atavistic desire--that our recently married granddaughter should be purely a homemaker, and that her husband should be the one responsible for earning money for their family. Of course, we realize ours is not necessarily a popular or modern--or even feasible--idea.

Other Examples

  • an immigrant from a landlocked African nation saying: “Unlike any of my forebears, I love wading into the sea, and being lashed by waves. Considering that I can barely swim and never go anywhere close to a swimming pool, this visceral attraction for the ocean seems to be inexplicable. Maybe it’s a case of atavism. After all, life started in the sea!”
  • a case of architectural atavism, such as in historic districts where new building designs incorporate elements derived from classical architectural styles such as Greek, Roman, or Gothic
  • a man in his 80s pursuing an atavistic interest in stamp collecting--a hobby that he had cultivated back when he was in junior high
  • the abhorrent and atavistic executions of Western journalists that ISIS will long be remembered for
  • Then-Senator Barack Obama’s now-famous so-called “Race Speech,” delivered about eight months before his election as president, became a defining moment of his candidacy and helped contain the potentially destructive controversy over the videotaped inflammatory statements of his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Talking about the strengths and failings of Rev. Wright in that speech, Obama pointed out that everybody has some contradictions, including his own white grandmother, who made many a sacrifice while raising him, but who also had an atavistic fear of black men who passed her on the street.

© 2018 V.J. Singal
No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.

This Month's Other Words



To help you sharply enhance your vocabulary

The Articulate Professional -- 3rd Edition
Click here for features and sample pages, or place an order.