spermism


Also found in: Medical.
Related to spermism: Ovism, Preformation theory

spermism

an obsolete biological theory that stated that sperm contained the preformed germ or the embryo. — spermist, n.
See also: Biology
-Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Pinto-Correia focuses not on the debate between epigenesis (the ultimately prevalent theory) and preformation (what she calls the "beautiful loser"), but on the battle between the contesting factions within preformation: ovism and spermism. Ovists, including Marcello Malpighi and Jan Swammerdam, argued that a miniature human was housed within each female egg (then recently described by William Harvey); spermists such as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Nicolas Hartsoeker argued that each sperm contained little people, or homunculi.
Pinto-Correia employs her enormous literary and linguistic erudition to illustrate how the general prejudices against the term homunculus associated with spermism ultimately contributed to its dismissal; how ovism was automatically bolstered by the spherical nature of an egg, a universal symbol of generation (like the Earth, the Sun, and the chicken egg); and how ovism was nonetheless prejudiced for ascribing, in a patriarchal society, the chief role in generation to an egg found only in women.
Had they done so, Pinto-Correia speculates, spermism, might have remained a viable theory longer.