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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Epicene \Ep"i*cene\, a. & n. [L. epicoenus, Gr. ?; fr. 'epi` + ? common; cf. F. ['e]pic[`e]ne.]

  1. Common to both sexes; -- a term applied, in grammar, to such nouns as have but one form of gender, either the masculine or feminine, to indicate animals of both sexes; as boy^s, bos, for the ox and cow; sometimes applied to eunuchs and hermaphrodites.

  2. Fig.: Sexless; neither one thing nor the other.

    The literary prigs epicene.
    --Prof. Wilson.

    He represented an epicene species, neither churchman nor layman.
    --J. A. Symonds.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"belonging to or including both sexes," mid-15c., epycen, originally a grammatical term for nouns that may denote either gender, from Latin epicoenus "common," from Greek epikoinos "common to many, promiscuous," from epi "on" (see epi-) + koinos "common" (see coeno-). English has no need of it in its grammatical sense. Extended sense of "characteristic of both sexes" first recorded in English c.1600; that of "effeminate" is from 1630s.


a. 1 Lacking gender distinction, often specifically due to lack of either the masculine or the feminine. 2 effeminate (gloss: male with unusually strong female characteristics). 3 (context biology English) androgynous, hermaphrodite (gloss: having both male and female characteristics). 4 (context biology English) asexual (gloss: having neither male nor female characteristics). 5 (context linguistics English) Having only one form of the word, which serves as both masculine and feminine, even for either male or female referents. n. 1 A hermaphrodite person or other creature. 2 An effeminate person. 3 An epicene word, without separate grammatical gender forms. 4 An epicene object.

  1. adj. having an ambiguous sexual identity [syn: bisexual]

  2. having unsuitable feminine qualities [syn: effeminate, emasculate, cissy, sissified, sissyish, sissy]


Epicene is an adjective (sometimes substantive) that indicates lack of gender distinction, often specifically loss of masculinity. It includes:

Usage examples of "epicene".

Their first names might be epicene, and that would be protection enough.

Pale tunes irresolute And traceries of old sounds Blown from a rotted flute Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust, Nor not strange forms and epicene Lie bleeding in the dust, Being wounded with wounds.

Himself's film opens as a beautifully sad young bus-station male prostitute, fragile and epicene and so blond even his eyebrows and lashes are blond, is approached in the Greyhound coffee shop by a flabby, dissipated-looking old specimen with gray teeth and circumflex eyebrows and obvious temporal-lobe difficulties.

He contended that the most interesting nations were the epicene ones, partaking, that is, of the characteristics of both sexes, and he instanced France and Italy, intensely virile in the North, absolutely female in the South.

I took a walk around the bed, missing those stale chambers on the West Side, nicely epicene in their way, a touch of seedy glamour drifting in off Needle Park, pale tapering men who live for the films of the thirties.

I don’t mean to say that he was epicene in the sense of being sexless, but rather that he was androgynous, omnisexual, capable of finding and giving pleasure with anyone or anything.