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For the play by Ben Jonson, see Epicœne, or The silent woman.

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]