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) , -​in-​ˈkäg-​nə-​ˌtī \

Definition of terra incognita

: unknown territory : an unexplored country or field of knowledge

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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.

Examples of terra incognita in a Sentence

the terra incognita beyond those mountains
Recent Examples on the Web Such reticence sounded like terra incognita to Norman Siegel, who led the New York group when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to block the Ku Klux Klan from rallying downtown in 1999. New York Times, 6 June 2021 Even before statehood, in 1850, first Spain and then Mexico tried to govern their terra incognita from thousands of miles away. Tribune News Service, oregonlive, 23 Sep. 2021 And then, Southern California was terra incognita — a new, unsettling and unsettled place that made newcomers nervous. Los Angeles Times, 29 June 2021 Editor Union:—This modest neighborhood figures but rarely in your columns; and to the modern San Diegan, San Luis is a terra incognita. Merrie Monteagudo, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9 July 2021 The inner lives of adolescents are always terra incognita, especially in this unique moment. Susan Dominus, New York Times, 15 May 2021 But for thousands of children my son’s age — those in kindergarten and transitional kindergarten — elementary school itself is terra incognita. Los Angeles Times, 19 Apr. 2021 These women are pursuing truth writ small, personally, looking for it in daring performances — not of national heroes but of themselves, this fecund terra incognita. New York Times, 10 Dec. 2020 The idea of terra incognita exerts a powerful pull at this moment. New York Times, 28 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'terra incognita.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of terra incognita

1611, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for terra incognita


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The first known use of terra incognita was in 1611

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terra incognita

terra japonica

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Cite this Entry

“Terra incognita.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terra%20incognita. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for terra incognita

terra incognita


English Language Learners Definition of terra incognita

: a place that has not been discovered or that is unknown


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