terra incognita


ter·​ra in·​cog·​ni·​ta ˈter-ə-ˌin-ˌkäg-ˈnē-tə How to pronounce terra incognita (audio) -in-ˈkäg-nə-tə How to pronounce terra incognita (audio)
plural terrae incognitae ˈter-ˌī-ˌin-ˌkäg-ˈnē-ˌtī How to pronounce terra incognita (audio)
: unknown territory : an unexplored country or field of knowledge

Did you know?

When Roman mapmakers drew a land area that no one had yet explored, they often labeled it "Terra Incognita"—that is, "Unknown Territory"—and the term continued to be used for centuries afterward. When Columbus and his successors first crossed the Atlantic, they entered upon terra incognita, a land that came to be called the "New World". But the term is just as useful for mental exploration. For most of us, subjects such as particle physics, French 17th-century drama, and soil mechanics are terra incognita, and we can only hope to live long enough to be able to explore some of them someday.

Example Sentences

the terra incognita beyond those mountains
Recent Examples on the Web Common ground on policy is not terra incognita. Editorial Board New York Times, Star Tribune, 14 Dec. 2020 Before Voyagers 1 and 2, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn were little known, and the moons of Uranus and Neptune were completely terra incognita. Corey S. Powell, Discover Magazine, 31 Dec. 2018 None of this is terra incognita for Hollywood. Judy Berman, Time, 11 Mar. 2022 When curator Brian Piper of the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) began to study the work of early Black commercial photographers in the 2010s, the subject was largely terra incognita. Judith H. Dobrzynski, WSJ, 26 Aug. 2022 The inner earth has been terra incognita, until now. Discover Magazine, 18 July 2011 So even though the Pliocene gives us some general sense of the world to come, we may well be headed for terra incognita, climatologically speaking. Tom Yulsman, Discover Magazine, 29 Jan. 2015 California was terra incognita to the tight fraternity of fliers on the East Coast and in Europe. Patt Morrisoncolumnist, Los Angeles Times, 10 Jan. 2023 The unknown in a life is still a gigantic terra incognita toward which every soul can make its pilgrimage. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 1 Jan. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'terra incognita.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



First Known Use

1611, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of terra incognita was in 1611

Dictionary Entries Near terra incognita

Cite this Entry

“Terra incognita.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terra%20incognita. Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!