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Epicene is an adjective (sometimes substantive) that indicates lack of gender distinction, often specifically loss of masculinity. It includes:

Specialized uses[edit]

In linguistics, the adjective "epicene" is used to describe a word that has only one form for both male and female referents.[1] The term "common" is also used. In English, for example, the words "assassin", "cousin" and "violinist" can refer to either a man or a woman. The word "he", although often regarded as masculine, is also considered to be epicene by some;[citation needed] alternatively, the more evidently epicene word "they" is used by some as a singular, generic, non-referring pronoun (technically, anaphora) (see also singular they, and gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns).

In languages with grammatical gender, the term "epicene" can be used in two distinct situations:

  • The same word can refer to both masculine and feminine antecedents, while retaining its own grammatical gender. For example, in New Testament Greek, parthenos (παρθένος, "virgin") is a feminine noun, but masculine in form. It can be used to refer to both men and women.[2]
  • A noun or adjective has identical masculine and feminine forms. For example, in French, the noun enfant "child" and the adjective espiègle "mischievous" can be either masculine or feminine:
un enfant espiègle "a mischievous male child"
une enfant espiègle "a mischievous female child"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Epicene'. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
  2. ^ JW Wenham. The Elements of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965, p. 169.

External links[edit]