See also: épicène

English edit

Etymology edit

A 2nd-century B.C.E. statue of the deity Hermaphroditus.[n 1] The deity and the statue are epicene (sense 4) – they have both female and male characteristics.

From Late Middle English epicene, epicen, epicin, epcyn, episcen, epycen, epycene, epycyn, ypsen ((grammar) having only one form for masculine and feminine gender, common),[1] from Late Latin epicoenos, epicoenus (of a noun: applicable to either males or females), Latin epicoenon (noun applicable to either males or females; grammatical gender of such nouns), from Ancient Greek ἐπίκοινος (epíkoinos, common to many people, things, etc.; promiscuous, sluttish) (compare γένος ἐπίκοινον (génos epíkoinon, common gender)), from ἐπι- (epi-, prefix meaning ‘on, upon; on top of; all over’) + κοινός (koinós, common; general, public) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ḱóm (beside, by, near, with) + *-yós (suffix forming adjectives from noun stems)).[2]

Pronunciation edit

Adjective edit

epicene (not comparable)

Examples (linguistics)
  • Ancient Greek ἀλώπηξ (alṓpēx, fox)
    This word is epicene in sense 1: it is always grammatically feminine, even when referring to male foxes.
  • French enfant (child)
    This word is epicene in sense 2: it is gendered (either grammatically masculine or feminine) but invariant – its form does not change regardless of the child’s sex.
  • English violinist
    This word is also epicene in sense 2: it is genderless and is used to refer to both males and females.
  1. (linguistics) Of or relating to a class of Greek and Latin nouns that may refer to males or females but have a fixed grammatical gender (feminine, masculine, neuter, etc.).
    • 1665, Ch[arles] Hoole, “Of a Noun”, in The Terminations and Examples of the Declensions and Conjugations: [], Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Printed by John Field, printer to the University, →OCLC, page 55:
      Q. How will you diſtinguiſh the Maſculine hic from the Epicene hic, and the Feminine hæc from the Epicene hæc? / A. That word that hath hic before it, and is onely male, is the Maſculine gender: but if it be both male and female, then it is the Epicene Gender: and ſo hæc before a female, is feminine, but hæc before a word that contains under it both ſexes, is Epicene.
    • 1843, Richard Haynes, “Of Nouns Substantive”, in A Commentary on the Eton Latin-grammar. [...] Orthography and Etymology, Bristol: Printed and published for the author, by John Wright & Co., [], →OCLC, part II (Etymology), section 3 (Genders of Nouns Substantive), page 9:
      Epicene nouns are equally misunderstood: they are of one gender only. These, like the common, represent under one word each member of a pair of animals—the male and the female: thus passer—a sparrow—denotes the cock sparrow, as well as the hen: but in the use of these words there is no variation of the gender: they are invariably used in one gender only: thus passer is of the masculine gender: and though used for the purpose of representing the hen-sparrow; still every adjective or participle connected with it must be used in the masculine gender: [...] In short, epicene nouns differ from the common in this only; that they do not vary their genders in accordance with nature: they invariably keep to one gender.
    • 1862, James Hadley, “Nouns”, in A Greek Grammar, for Schools and Colleges, New York, N.Y., London: D. Appleton and Company, [], →OCLC, part second (Inflection), paragraph 118, page 32:
      In many names of animals, the same word with the same gender is used for both sexes: ἡ ἁλὠπηξ the fox, male or female. These are said to be epicoene.
    • 1917, Horace Wetherill Wright, The Sacra Idulia in Ovid’s Fasti: A Study of Ovid’s Credibility in Regard to the Place and the Victim of this Sacrifice, Newark, N.J.: The Essex Press, →OCLC, page 45:
      Ovis, therefore, is epicene, and, moreover, a true epicene, like volpes, aquila, merula, avis, panthera, corvus, and others. It is epicene, because it has just been proved to be the generic term for sheep without thought for sex, to have only one grammatical gender, feminine, and yet, as a true epicene, to be carried to its logical development, so that on a few occasions, such as we have encountered in Ovid, and in [Marcus Terentius] Varro, it is employed strictly of the male.
  2. (linguistics) Of or relating to nouns or pronouns in any language that have a single form for male and female referents.
    Synonym: common
    • 1856, R[obert] Caldwell, “Section III. The Noun.”, in A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages, London, Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate [], →OCLC, part I (Gender and Number), section 1 (Gender), page 189:
      In Telugu some confusion has been introduced between the epicene sign of plurality 'ar-u', and the neuter 'lu.' [...] Thus the Telugu demonstrative pronoun 'vâr-u,' they (the plural of 'vâḍu,' he), corresponding to the Canarese 'avar-u,' exhibits the regular epicene plural; while 'magaḍu,' a husband (in Tamil 'magan'), takes for its plural not 'magaru,' but 'magalu;' [...]
  3. (by extension) Suitable for use regardless of sex; unisex.
    • 1878 June, “Ludovic” [pseudonym], “Epicene Boating”, in The Kentish Magazine: A Literary Monthly Miscellany for the County, number II, Maidstone, Kent: Burgiss-Brown, []; London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., [], →OCLC, page 63:
      Boating when epicene is nice, in truth, / E'en though one must allow, / The danger of giving the helm to youth / While pleasure rules the prow. / [...] / 'Tis best when Frank takes his cousin ashore, / She loves botanising, / While Sissy who's left, can handle an oar / In a manner surprising.
  4. (biology and figuratively) Of indeterminate sex, whether asexual, androgynous, hermaphrodite, or intersex; of a human face, intermediate in form between a man's face and a woman's face.
    Synonyms: gynandromorphic, gynandrous
    • 1934 October, George Orwell [pseudonym; Eric Arthur Blair], Burmese Days, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, →OCLC; republished as chapter 22, in Burmese Days (ebook no. 0200051h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia, November 2015:
      Five High School boys came down the road abreast. Ellis saw them coming, a row of yellow, malicious faces—epicene faces, horribly smooth and young, grinning at him with deliberate insolence.
    • [1969], “Verbia” [pseudonym], with Miriam Berg, A Play on Words, [New York, N.Y.]: Macmillan, →OCLC, page 160:
      The 1960's may well be remembered as the epicene era. Boys grew long hair and bangs; girls adopted trousers, vests and peaked caps – and with everyone wearing tight pants and boots, your guess is as good as ours whether that was a guy or a gal who just went by!
    • 1974, Thomas McHaney, “The Elmer Papers: [William] Faulkner’s Comic Portraits of the Artist”, in James B. Meriwether, editor, A Faulkner Miscellany, Jackson, Miss.: Published for the Mississippi Quarterly by the University of Mississippi Press, →ISBN, page 49; quoted in Panthea Reid Broughton, “The Economy of Desire: Faulkner’s Poetics, From Eroticism to Post-Impressionism”, in John T. Matthews and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, editor, The Faulkner Journal [Special Issue: Faulkner and Feminisms], volume 4, numbers 1 and 2, Akron, Oh.: University of Akron, fall 1988 – spring 1989, published fall 1991, →ISSN, →JSTOR, →OCLC, page 167:
      There is a kind of aesthetic masturbation here akin to Elmer's love of impregnable, virginal epicene women.
    • 1996, David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest [], Boston, Mass., New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown and Company, →ISBN, page 939:
      ‘The actor was male. He wasn’t one of Jim’s regulars. But the character I recognize in the door is epicene.’
    • 1997, Don DeLillo, Underworld, New York, N.Y.: Scribner, →ISBN; 1st trade paperback edition, New York, N.Y.: Scribner, 2003, →ISBN, part 6, page 675:
      A few boys still playing ringolievio, haphazard and half speed, the clumsy fatboy trapped in the den, always caught, always it, the slightly epicene butterfat bulk, the boy who's always reaching down to lift a droopy sock and getting swift-kicked by the witlings and sadists. Is that what being it means? Neutered, sexless, impersonalized.
  5. (by extension) Indeterminate; mixed.
  6. (by extension, usually derogatory) Of a man: effeminate.
    • 1994 August, Will Self, “The valley of the corn dollies”, in Alan Rusbridger, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, published 17 January 2014, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 13 April 2016:
      A lot of rather etiolated, epicene, middle-class, male intellectuals have discovered a new authenticity when they come to identify themselves as football fans.
    • 2005 August 18, Michael Billington, “Nuts CocoNuts [theatre review]”, in Alan Rusbridger, editor, The Guardian[2], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 19 September 2014:
      Here it is vital to turn up at least half an hour early, when you find a kitsch variety show, ostensibly staged by a Gibraltarian touring company, in full, ghastly progress. It is certainly nothing if not international: Austria is symbolised by lederhosen and dirndls; gay Paree by boaters and baguettes; and Scotland, somewhat libellously, by kilted, epicene figures singing "Donald, where's your troosers?"

Alternative forms edit

Derived terms edit

Translations edit

Noun edit

epicene (plural epicenes)

  1. (linguistics) An epicene word; preceded by the: the epicene words of a language as a class.
    • 1712, Michael Maittaire [i.e., Michel Maittaire], “The Heterology of Words”, in The English Grammar: Or, An Essay on the Art of Grammar, Applied to and Exemplified in the English Tongue, London: Printed for W[illiam] B[owyer] for H. Clements [], →OCLC, page 129:
      Which ſort of Words the Grammarians call Epicœnes (ἐπίκοινος from κοινός common), becauſe they under one Gender, which they commonly take from the Termination, comprehend both Kinds; [...] [Marcus Terentius] Varro, after the example of Ennius and [Quinus] Fabius Pictor, has uſed ſome of theſe Epicœnes in both Genders, e.g. uſing the maſculin lupus (a wolf) as feminin.
    • 1782, B[enjamin] Webb, An Essay on Education; or, An Address to Parents and Guardians. In Two Parts, Reading, Berkshire: Printed for the author, by Carnan and Smart, →OCLC, part I, pages 12–13:
      Ward, in his improvement of [William] Lily's Latin Grammar, reckons Seven Genders, viz. Maſculine, Feminine, Neuter, Common of two, Common of three, Doubtful, and Epicene; in his improvement of the Greek Grammar, he names only Four, viz. Maſculine, Feminine, Neuter, and Common; injudiciouſly, I think, omitting the Epicene. But the Engliſh language, according to my ideas of it, has ſcarce more than Two Genders, viz. Maſculine and Feminine; [...] I ſhall mention my doubts of the exiſtence of the Three others, viz. Neuter, Common, and Epicene; though I am pretty ſtrongly perſuaded, that the Nouns, with either are, or may be reputed to be of the Three latter, totally exclude all ideas of Sex in this language, and, therefore, cannot with ſtrict property be claſſed as to Gender; [...]
    • 1989, D. D. Sharma [Devīdatta Śarmā], Tribal Languages of Himachal Pradesh (Studies in Tibeto-Himalayan Languages; 2), volume 1, Delhi: Mittal Publications, →ISBN, page 214:
      Consequently, all animate objects which do not have distinctive terms for their male and female beings are epicenes and become masculine or feminine solely by virtue of the addition of gender marker particles denotative of 'male' and 'female' or 'he' and 'she' suffixed to the genderless term. This device of gender distinction, too, is confined to non-human animate beings only.
    • 1999, Margaret Gibbon, Feminist Perspectives on Language (Feminist Perspectives Series), London, New York, N.Y.: Longman, →ISBN, page 80:
      Some French feminists argue that the neutralization of masculine forms into epicenes actually does a disservice to women, making women even less visible socially and professionally. However, it seems inappropriate for feminists in one linguistic community to comment on the strategies used in other linguistic communities.
    • 2010, Heiko Motschenbacher, “The Discursive Materialisation of Female and Feminine Generics”, in Language, Gender and Sexual Identity: Poststructuralist Perspectives (IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society; 29), Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, →ISBN, →ISSN, section 6.4.2 (Grammatically Feminine Epicenes), pages 99–100:
      Due to their lexical gender-neutrality, feminine epicenes can easily be used to refer to both sexes despite their fixed feminine grammatical gender. [...] Compared to the cases of feminine male personal nouns mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, feminine epicenes are generally less pejorative in meaning. Many MF languages of the Indo-European family, for example, possess a feminine noun denoting 'person': e.g. Catalan/Italian/Spanish persona, French personne, Portuguese pessoa, Romanian pesoană, German Person, Icelandic persóna, Czech/Polish/Serbian osoba, Slovenian oseba.
  2. (biology and figuratively) An epicene person, whether biologically asexual, androgynous, hermaphrodite, or intersex; an androgyne, a hermaphrodite. [from 17th c.]
    • 1620 January 17 (first performance; Gregorian calendar), Benjamin Jonson [i.e., Ben Jonson], “Newes from the New World Discover’d in the Moon. A Masque, []”, in The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. The Second Volume. [] (Second Folio), London: [] Richard Meighen, published 1640–1641, →OCLC, page 44:
      Onely one Iſland they have, is call'd the Iſle of the Epecœnes, becauſe there under one Article both kindes are ſignified, for they are faſhioned alike, male and female the ſame, [...] you doe not know the delight of the Epicœnes in Moon-ſhine.
    • 1875 January, “IV. The Boundary between Man and the Lower Animals.”, in William Crookes, editor, The Quarterly Journal of Science, and Annals of Mining, Metallurgy, Engineering, Industrial Arts, Manufactures, and Technology, volume V (New Series; volume XII (Old Series)), London: Offices of the Quarterly Journal of Science, [], →OCLC, page 64:
      Again, the division of the higher forms of animal life into males and females—obnoxious as it is to the champions of the Woman's Rights Movement, and inconvenient as it proves to a certain class of world-betterers—can neither be abrogated nor explained away. There is, to be sure, a time in the life of hen pheasants, and other female gallinaceous birds, when they—in the magniloquent language of a weekly literary organ of epicœnes and garotters—"rise up and look their tyrant in the face," in the hope that, "ever after, he will sit uneasily on his" roost.
  3. (by extension) A transsexual; also, a transvestite.
  4. (by extension, usually derogatory) An effeminate man.
    • 1748 June, “Remembrancer, June 11. Epicurism Ruinous to the State.”, in The Scots Magazine. [], volume X, Edinburgh: Printed by W. Sands, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, →OCLC, page 286:
      [W]hat ſhall be urged in defence of any male creature, who not only adopts every effeminate foible, but glories in them; and affects to deſpiſe and ridicule the rough unpoliſhed creature, who has ſenſe and ſpirit enough to perſiſt in the manly port of his forefathers? Should it be aſked by any villager, who had never been out of the hundred where he was born, (and none but ſuch aſk the queſtion,) if we really have ſuch Epicœnes amongſt us?

Translations edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ From the collection of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

References edit

  1. ^ epicēn(e, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ epicene, adj. and n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2016; “epicene, adj. and n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading edit

Italian edit

Pronunciation edit

  • IPA(key): /e.piˈt͡ʃɛ.ne/
  • Rhymes: -ɛne
  • Hyphenation: e‧pi‧cè‧ne

Adjective edit


  1. feminine plural of epiceno