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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 term "common" is also used - but shouldn't be mixed up 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]

  • In this sense the term "common" is differed from "epicene".
    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 sense also the term "common" is used.
    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"

See also[edit]


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