primitive (adj.)

late 14c., primitif, "of an original cause; of a thing from which something is derived; not secondary" (a sense now associated with primary), from Old French primitif "very first, original" (14c.) and directly from Latin primitivus "first or earliest of its kind," from primitus "at first," from primus "first" (see prime (adj.)).

Meaning "of or belonging to the first age" is from early 15c., especially in a Christian sense of "adhering to the qualities of the early Church." Meaning "having the style of an early or ancient time," especially "characterized by the (supposed) simplicity of the old times," is from 1680s.

In anthropology, of cultures that, through isolation, have remained at a simple level, by 1895. Of untrained modern artists from 1942 (earlier in reference to pre-Renaissance artists; 1847; also of art by "primitive" cultures or prehistoric ages). Related: Primitively.

primitive (n.)

c. 1400, primitif, of men or livestock, "original ancestor, the first-born," a noun use from Latin primitivus "the first or earliest of its kind," especially "the first-born" (see primitive (adj.)). Meaning "aboriginal person in a land visited by Europeans" is from 1779, hence the sense "uncivilized person."

updated on November 09, 2020

Definitions of primitive from WordNet
primitive (adj.)
belonging to an early stage of technical development; characterized by simplicity and (often) crudeness;
primitive living conditions in the Appalachian mountains
primitive movies of the 1890s
Synonyms: crude / rude
primitive (adj.)
little evolved from or characteristic of an earlier ancestral type;
the okapi is a short-necked primitive cousin of the giraffe
primitive mammals
Synonyms: archaic
primitive (adj.)
used of preliterate or tribal or nonindustrial societies;
primitive societies
primitive (adj.)
of or created by one without formal training; simple or naive in style;
primitive art such as that by Grandma Moses is often colorful and striking
Synonyms: naive
primitive (n.)
a person who belongs to an early stage of civilization;
Synonyms: primitive person
primitive (n.)
a mathematical expression from which another expression is derived;
primitive (n.)
a word serving as the basis for inflected or derived forms;
`pick' is the primitive from which `picket' is derived
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