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1) Should the adjective/adverb incognito be used only for males? M-W says:

Definition of incognita : [...] —used only of a woman

But M-W's definition of incognito simply says

with one's identity concealed

So is incognito truly unisex ? What about plurals/mixed-sex/unknown - are they all incognito too?

On ngram I see hits for he was incognito but negligible hits for he/she was incognita or she was incognito.

2) Since it has a Latin root and from what I can figure out from Wikipedia, in Latin the feminine and neuter versions are both the same, i.e. incognita, so, it seems strange English default is incognito?

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    Both simpatico and loco are in the dictionary, but not simpatica and loca. I don't see why we shouldn't treat incognito the same way. – Peter Shor Dec 2 '16 at 3:54
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    English words derived or adapted from Latin (or romance languages) often alter or ignore the original gender. – John Feltz Dec 2 '16 at 3:55
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    "it seems strange English default is incognito" - you're expecting logic from English? – aparente001 Dec 2 '16 at 4:38
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    I guess you could say incognita if you wanted, but since English is not Latin, you shouldn't have to. Also, with respect to what @Peter said, one could still, taking a cue from Spanish, say, in English, that "She was loca" and one wouldn't be breaking the law. – Alan Carmack Dec 2 '16 at 7:44
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The pair incognito/incognita came to English through Italian, which is why it doesn't match up with Latin cases. Italian, of course, got the word from Latin, hence the Latin root. (You can see this this on the Merriam-Webster pages for incognito and incognita.)


Currently, I would say that incognita is going the same path as other feminine-exclusive words such as authoress: disuse. Most people would not think twice about using the word incognito for anyone, whereas incognita will probably raise eyebrows, and may even be considered offensive.

Just use incognito for everyone, and avoid pushing into the issue of gender-neutral language.

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  • I didn't not think that the gender declination has ever been a problem for "incognito" in the English language, apart from those who wanted just to make a point of its Latin origin. – user66974 Dec 2 '16 at 16:11
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    @JOSH I'm not sure what your point is... (Also, this has nothing to do with the Latin origin, which would be incognitus. The o/a ending came from Italian, like I said.) – Laurel Dec 2 '16 at 16:17
  • English's masculine/feminine usage based directly on the Italian equivalent does indeed make sense to me. I guess the fact that Latin, (in this case at least - bearing in mind I'm illiterate regarding Latin) has a variant for neuter (which perhaps would have served English well) was long lost by the time these words came to English. – k1eran Dec 2 '16 at 20:27
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Incognito is an adverb meaning: in disguised or under an assumed name, and has no gender declination in English.

"This term is said especially of great personages who sometimes adopt a disguise or an assumed character in order to avoid notice." (Wiktionary)

  • in a way that prevents other people from finding out who you are.

    • Movie stars often prefer to travel incognito.

Note that the feminine term incognita was used in the past as suggested by etymonline:

  • Feminine form incognita was maintained through 19c. by those scrupulous about Latin.

Word Origin

  • mid 17th cent.: from Italian, literally ‘unknown’, from Latin incognitus, from in- ‘not’ + cognitus, past participle of cognoscere ‘know’.

OLD

Curiously, also the Italian idiomatic expression "in incognito" which corresponds to the English usage, has no gender declination.

De Mauro

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    Does the same this hold true for plural forms as well; to those scrupulous, should it be incognitos in the movie stars example? – BladorthinTheGrey Dec 2 '16 at 7:35
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    +1 Can't believe the Latinists insisted on incognita! I guess we can, but don't have to, jettison that idea, except in translated phrases such as terra incognita. – Alan Carmack Dec 2 '16 at 7:35
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    @BladorthinTheGrey: the plural for those who are scrupulous would be incogniti (masculine) or incognite (feminine). – herisson Dec 2 '16 at 9:56
  • @Alan Carmack I asked for a ruling on this issue in a comment a few days ago. Had I asked it as a question, I would have accepted your answer. By the way, is it ok to pronounce "incognito," as an English word, with the stress on "cog" and the "ni" with a short i? With these Latin words, I seem to want a long vowel sound where most others use a short vowel (e.g. caveat) and a short vowel in incognito where most others use a long e. – Airymouse Dec 2 '16 at 16:14
  • @Airymouse: not only is it OK, it's the stress pattern that prescriptivists often prefer due to the etymology of the word. – herisson Dec 2 '16 at 21:28

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