By Deane Barker

This is a biological feature that reappears after being absent for sometime – usually many generations.

For example, every once in a while, a human is born with a tail stump, or covered in fur. Additionally, very rarely, someone will find a whale with legs.

Socially, an atavism can refer to something which is “throwback” or “retro.” When bell-bottoms come back into style, that can be considered a fashion atavism.

Why I Looked It Up

In Neuromancer:

You couldn’t kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a bunch of executives; there were others waiting to step up the ladder to the vacated position. […] T-A was an atavism, a clan.

The usage here is odd. The speaker is comparing a large corporation (a “zaibatsu”) as a sort of immortal being, like genetic traits that you think are gone but eventually re-surface.

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