duplicity

noun
du·​plic·​i·​ty | \du̇-ˈpli-sə-tē 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

Perhaps that’s a sad statement on the abiding nature of duplicity on Wall Street. New York Times, "Loving and Hating the Broadway Season: Our Critics Could Have Argued All Night," 9 May 2018 The sequence that follows, in which Debbie smoothly cons her way into a swanky Manhattan hotel room, is a delectable cinematic amuse-bouche, a tour de force of low-stakes duplicity. Justin Chang, latimes.com, "Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett pull off an enjoyable, low-fizz heist in 'Ocean's 8'," 6 June 2018 At the special meeting in The Hague, Russia and Britain traded accusations of duplicity and untrustworthiness. BostonGlobe.com, "Russia loses vote to join spy poisoning probe; next stop UN," 4 Apr. 2018 Only the arrogant ascendance of psychiatry in postwar America—warmly remembered by Neubauer's former research assistant, Natasha Josefowitz—can account for the researchers' duplicity. J.r. Jones, Chicago Reader, "Triplets ripped from family in a Nazi-like experiment, probed in Three Identical Strangers," 5 July 2018 Communist propaganda saw proof of America’s duplicity and imperialism. The Economist, "George Marshall won the war and rebuilt Europe, but lost China," 3 May 2018 Such duplicity, among governments across the globe, was routine. Fred Pearce, Time, "How the 'Compulsive Secrecy’ of the Atomic Age Has Changed the Way We Think," 22 May 2018 Remember, cosmic warriors, Gemini is synonymous with duality, not duplicity. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "How Each Zodiac Sign Is Most Likely to Cheat in a Relationship," 30 Apr. 2018 Repetition of a memorable phrase was a sign of respect, not duplicity. The Economist, "The making of Martin Luther King’s speeches," 28 Mar. 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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Last Updated

16 Oct 2018

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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

duplicity

noun

English Language Learners Definition of duplicity

: dishonest behavior that is meant to trick someone

duplicity

noun
du·​plic·​i·​ty | \dü-ˈpli-sə-tē, dyü- \
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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