du·​plic·​i·​ty | \ du̇-ˈpli-sə-tē How to pronounce duplicity (audio) also dyu̇-\
plural duplicities

Definition of duplicity

1 : contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action the simplicity and openness of their lives brought out for him the duplicity that lay at the bottom of ours— Mary Austin especially : the belying of one's true intentions by deceptive words or action
2 : the quality or state of being double or twofold
3 law : the technically incorrect use of two or more distinct items (such as claims, charges, or defenses) in a single legal action

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How to Remember What Duplicity Means

The idea of doubleness is at the core of duplicity. Duplicity comes from a Latin word meaning "double" or "twofold," and its original meaning in English has to do with a kind of deception in which you intentionally hide your true feelings or intentions behind false words or actions. If you are being duplicitous there are two yous: the one you're showing and the one you're hiding. And—key to the idea of duplicity—you're hiding that you in order to make people believe something that's not true.

The word is found in many works of literature, including the Bible:

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
— Proverbs 11:3 (New International Version)

Even when he sat opposite me in the kitchen, talking, he would turn his head a little toward the clock or the stove and look at me from the side, but with frankness and good nature. This trick did not suggest duplicity or secretiveness….
— Willa Cather, My Antonia, 1918

Arch read it at breakfast the day it came out and again that night. He admired its art but was most, affected, and in fact discomfited, by its unblinking inventory of self-seeking and duplicity.
— Tobias Wolff, Old School, 2003

Did You Know?

If someone's duplicity has left you feeling like you're seeing double, take heart in the word's etymology. Duplicity comes from a long line of "double" talk, starting with its Latin grandparent duplex, which means "double" or "twofold." As you might expect, duplex is also the parent of another term for doubling it up, duplicate. And of course, the English duplex (which can be a noun meaning "a two-family house" or an adjective meaning "double") comes from the Latin word of the same spelling.

Examples of duplicity in a Sentence

He exposed the spy's duplicity. we were lucky not to be taken in by his duplicity

Recent Examples on the Web

Barnum became one of the most celebrated men in America not despite his bigotry and duplicity, his flimflamming and self-dealing, but because of them. Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, "What P. T. Barnum Understood About America," 29 July 2019 Last November Donald Trump blasted Pakistan, accusing it of duplicity and dishonesty. The Economist, "America swaps its stick for a carrot in its dealings with Pakistan," 25 July 2019 Those early days in 2011-12, when protesters marched in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, betrayed by duplicity, armies and fresh graves. Los Angeles Times, "Review: ‘For Sama’ tells of a mother’s searing choice for a daughter born into war," 24 July 2019 Rancor over the state budget erupted into all-out war on Wednesday, with accusations of duplicity and tantrums. Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, "Why the Democratic Takeover in New Jersey Is More Civil War Than Progressive Revolution," 26 June 2019 Season two featured a more unified front of characters, yet they were still driven apart by factors ranging from the mundane to the horrifying: lies, duplicity, abuse, violence, possession, abandonment, torture, murder, monsters. Daniel Payne, National Review, "In Its Third Season, Stranger Things Strays from What Made It Great," 20 July 2019 The unfolding plot snags a dozen main characters in a web of duplicity, human misery, betrayal and murder that Atkinson skillfully relates from multiple points of view — investigators, criminals, family members and victims alike. Bruce Desilva, Dallas News, "A vile conspiracy is taken down in long-awaited novel 'Big Sky'," 25 June 2019 There is a deep dichotomy, a deep duplicity in the human condition. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "How Stephen Curry produced documentary explores forgiveness in Charleston church shooting," 16 June 2019 About half of respondents admitted to duplicity while playing the real-estate game. Greg Bensinger, WSJ, "Why Do Parents Cheat at Family Board Games? To Lose as Fast as Possible," 18 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'duplicity.' 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 duplicity

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for duplicity

Middle English duplicite, from Middle French, from Late Latin duplicitat-, duplicitas, from Latin duplex

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7 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for duplicity

The first known use of duplicity was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for duplicity



English Language Learners Definition of duplicity

formal : dishonest behavior that is meant to trick someone


du·​plic·​i·​ty | \ dü-ˈpli-sə-tē, dyü- How to pronounce duplicity (audio) \
plural duplicities

Legal Definition of duplicity

1 : the use of deceptive words or actions
2 : the use of more than one claim, allegation, or defense in a single paragraph of a pleading especially : the improper charging of more than one offense in one count in a charging instrument (as an indictment) — compare misjoinder, multiplicity

History and Etymology for duplicity

Late Latin duplicitat- duplicitas duality, double-dealing, from Latin duplex twofold

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More from Merriam-Webster on duplicity

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with duplicity

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duplicity

Spanish Central: Translation of duplicity

Nglish: Translation of duplicity for Spanish Speakers

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a period when something is suspended

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