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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. In some cases, the term common is also used, but should not be confused with common or appellative as a contrary to proper (as in proper noun). In English, for example, the epicene (or common) nouns cousin and violinist can refer to a man or a woman, and so can the epicene (or common) pronoun one. The noun stewardess and the third-person singular pronouns he and she on the other hand are not epicene (or common).[1]

In languages with grammatical gender, the term epicene can be used in two distinct situations:[1]

  • The same word can refer to both masculine and feminine antecedents, while retaining its own, either masculine or feminine, grammatical gender. For example, Classical Greek (ὁ) λαγώς hare is masculine, but can refer to male and female hares (he-hares and she-hares), and (ἡ) ἀλώπηξ fox is feminine, but can refer to male and female foxes (he-foxes and she-foxes).[2] For this meaning the term "common" is different from "epicene".
  • 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 (masculine)    "a mischievous male child"
une enfant espiègle (feminine)    "a mischievous female child"
For this meaning the term "common" is also used.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dictionary.com: epicene (accessed on 10 August 2015)
  2. ^ William W. Goodwin: A Greek Grammar. Revised and enlarged. Boston, published by Ginn & Company, 1895, p.35, §.158