Charles Darwin: Essential Words from "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection"

Charles Darwin expounded his theories on evolution in "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection." Learn the essential terms from his enduring work, originally published in 1859.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. natural selection
    a process in which organisms evolve to adapt to environment
    I may add, that when under nature the conditions of life do change, variations and reversions of character probably do occur; but natural selection, as will hereafter be explained, will determine how far the new characters thus arising shall be preserved.
  2. variability
    the quality of being subject to change
    When we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, I think we are driven to conclude that this greater variability is simply due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent-species have been exposed under nature.
  3. species
    taxonomic group whose members can interbreed
    When we look to the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us, is, that they generally differ much more from each other, than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature.
  4. genus
    taxonomic group containing one or more species
    The same species, also, often have a somewhat monstrous character; by which I mean, that, although differing from each other, and from the other species of the same genus, in several trifling respects, they often differ in an extreme degree in some one part, both when compared one with another, and more especially when compared with all the species in nature to which they are nearest allied.
  5. homologous
    similar in position, structure, function, or characteristics
    The several parts of the body which are homologous, and which, at an early embryonic period, are alike, seem liable to vary in an allied manner: we see this in the right and left sides of the body varying in the same manner; in the front and hind legs, and even in the jaws and limbs, varying together, for the lower jaw is believed to be homologous with the limbs.
  6. modification
    the act of making something different
    Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still often yield new varieties: our oldest domesticated animals are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.
  7. aboriginal
    having existed from the beginning
    Having alluded to the subject of reversion, I may here refer to a statement often made by naturalists—namely, that our domestic varieties, when run wild, gradually but certainly revert in character to their aboriginal stocks.
  8. naturalist
    a biologist knowledgeable about botany and zoology
    Having alluded to the subject of reversion, I may here refer to a statement often made by naturalists—namely, that our domestic varieties, when run wild, gradually but certainly revert in character to their aboriginal stocks.
  9. diversification
    the condition of being varied
    The truth of the principle, that the greatest amount of life can be supported by great diversification of structure, is seen under many natural circumstances.
  10. offspring
    the immediate descendants of a person
    ...affected by unperceived causes as to fail in acting, we need not be surprised at this system, when it does act under confinement, acting not quite regularly, and producing offspring not perfectly like their parents or variable.
  11. descendant
    a person considered as coming from some ancestor or race
    I think this must be admitted, when we find that there are hardly any domestic races, either amongst animals or plants, which have not been ranked by some competent judges as mere varieties, and by other competent judges as the descendants of aboriginally distinct species.
  12. inheritance
    any attribute that is passed down from ancestors
    ...conditions of life; and this shows how unimportant the direct effects of the conditions of life are in comparison with the laws of reproduction, and of growth, and of inheritance; for had the action of the conditions been direct, if any of the young had varied, all would probably have varied in the same manner.
  13. adaptation
    the responsive adjustment of a sense organ
    is that we see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal's or plant's own good, but to man's use or fancy.

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