alter ego

noun

plural alter egos
1
: a second self or different version of oneself: such as
a
: a trusted friend
b
: the opposite side of a personality
Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman
c
: counterpart sense 3
a fictional character that is the author's alter ego
2
law : a person or entity vicariously liable for another (such as an agent)
… because the Cuban bank had not physically participated in the expropriation, it could not be considered an alter ego of the Government in the context of the Citibank case.The New York Times

Did you know?

In Latin, alter ego literally means "second I". An alter ego can be thought of as a person's clone or second self. A professional alter ego might be a trusted aide who knows exactly what the boss wants done. A personal alter ego might be a close friend who is almost like a twin. Alter ego can also refer to the second, hidden side of one's own self. In Robert Louis Stevenson's classic The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a good-hearted, honorable man; but after taking a potion, his alter ego, the loathsome and diabolical Mr. Hyde, takes over his personality.

Examples of alter ego in a Sentence

a trusted adviser who is the President's alter ego over the years the state's other senator became his alter ego as well as his political ally
Recent Examples on the Web Caldwell-Bono laid out a defense that suggested a fantastical arc, in which trauma caused a boy to create an alter ego that returned, years later, to destroy the source of his trauma. Molly Langmuir, Rolling Stone, 2 Feb. 2024 The more the world goes to hell, the more relatable—across generations and identities—his incorrigibly cranky alter ego becomes. TIME, 2 Feb. 2024 His alter ego here is a successful artist, Tarrell (André Holland), whose happy home life with his singer-songwriter wife (Andra Day) and their young son stands in stark contrast to the pain of his own upbringing. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2024 Given that the Network’s debut was called Money Money 2020, Green Day’s dystopian synth rock alter egos decided to make a return that year just in time to lambast topics such as COVID-19 denialism and the Trump administration. Al Shipley, SPIN, 17 Jan. 2024 In a statement published by several outlets including The Hollywood Reporter, David reflected on playing his curmudgeonly alter ego on Curb Your Enthusiasm since 1999 (loosely based, of course, on David's real-life personality). Zoey Lyttle, Peoplemag, 12 Jan. 2024 With a growing presence in the ton, Penelope is challenged with keeping her Lady Whistledown alter ego under wraps. Ethan Shanfeld, Variety, 12 Dec. 2023 His reasoning for devising an alter ego is twofold. Carlos Aguilar, Los Angeles Times, 18 Dec. 2023 Oozing street-smart charm, Moon makes an impressive professional debut as Keys’s alter ego (although one hopes that with this octave-traversing role, Moon’s voice remains suitably rested). Peter Marks, Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Latin alter egō "close friend," literally "other I," perhaps as translation of Greek állos egṓ, héteros egṓ

Note: Cf. M. Tullius cicero, Letters to Atticus 3.15.4.: "… me enim ipsum multo magis accuso, deinde te quasi me alterum et simul meae culpae socium quaero." ("I am reproaching myself far more than you, and if I do reproach you it is as my alter ego; also I am looking for someone to share the blame" - translation by D. R. Shackleton Bailey.)

First Known Use

1537, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of alter ego was in 1537

Dictionary Entries Near alter ego

Cite this Entry

“Alter ego.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alter%20ego. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

alter ego

noun
al·​ter ego ˌȯl-tər-ˈē-gō How to pronounce alter ego (audio)
1
: a trusted friend or personal representative
2
: the opposite side of a personality

Legal Definition

alter ego

noun
al·​ter ego ˈȯl-tər-ˈē-gō How to pronounce alter ego (audio)
: second self
especially : a person or entity vicariously liable for another (as an agent)
had the officer been the alter ego of the corporation J. J. White and R. S. Summers
compare instrumentality

Note: The concept of a legal alter ego is used primarily to hold the controlling parties of a corporation personally liable instead of limiting liability to the corporate entity.

Etymology

Latin, literally, second I

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