Word of the Day

evolution

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Definition

the scientific theory according to which types of plant and animal change gradually over long periods of time through a process known as natural selection

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.



Origin and usage

The noun evolution comes from a classical Latin word ‘evolutio’ which referred to the action of unrolling a scroll. Evolution was first used in English in the early 17th century to refer to a change of position. The biological meaning dates from the first half of the 19th century, while the phrase ‘theory of evolution‘ was first recorded in 1858.

Examples

Yesterday was the 160th anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin. The work, which aroused great controversy at the time, is now regarded as the foundation of evolutionary biology, while the mechanism of natural selection which Darwin explored in the book is generally accepted as describing the means by which species evolve. In addition to being used in this scientific context, the term evolution and its related verb (evolve) and adjective (evolutionary) are also used to refer to the way in which things generally change and develop over time. The related noun and adjective evolutionist refers to someone who accepts the scientific theory of evolution. You can explore the vocabulary of evolution and related topics in biology in this Macmillan Thesaurus entry.

Quotations

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.”
(Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species)

“We are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.”
(Carl Sagan)

Related words

evolve, evolutionary, natural selection

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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