Epicene

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Epicene is sometimes a useful word in the study of grammar. It can also be a purely affected way of saying 'of common gender', or 'including both male and female', which is what epicene means. Examples include the word 'cat', which may be used for both male and female animals of the species; and the modern habit of referring to all performers in plays on stage or films as 'actors', rather than actor and actress. This is now felt to be sexist. 'Of common gender' is to be preferred over 'epicene' on the grounds of its greater simplicity; but use 'epicene' in technical contexts of grammar. The word can be more useful in the study of languages other than English. In the study of English grammar, the term common gender is preferable.

Etymological note: epicene represents the Greek ἐπίκοινος, via the Latin epicoenus. This was formed from the prefix ἐπί-, 'at', 'close to' and κοινὸς‚ 'common'.

In less formal usage, people sometimes use epicene as a faintly derogatory term for individuals of rather loosely defined sexual orientation. Trans-sexuals may be 'epicene' (~ one can't tell by looking at them whether they are male or female); and male homosexuals who attempt to look female are often abused by the term.