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 Yet the duplicity and paranoia of the Soviet government haunted the ARA’s operation to the very end. The Economist, "A century ago America saved millions of Russians from starvation," 9 Nov. 2019 Yet their duplicity seems to cost politicians little, if anything, in electoral support. The Economist, "You really can fool some of the people, all of the time," 2 Nov. 2019 Such duplicity only fanned the fears of a global plague — a hysteria not seen since the groundless fears of a Y2K global computer meltdown in the year 2000, or the political feeding frenzy during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "What We Don’t Know about the Coronavirus Is What Scares Us," 5 Mar. 2020 So does every other character (including Nero, the bookstore cat) in this multilayered mystery that brims with duplicity, betrayal and revenge – all bubbling slowly to the surface of increasingly bloody pages. Don Oldenburg, USA TODAY, "Review: Mystery lovers will savor suspense of Peter Swanson's 'Eight Perfect Murders'," 3 Mar. 2020 The impression the Emmy winning show leaves is of Americans seeking to act honorably while Iranians are prone to duplicity. Washington Post, "The Trump administration is seeking to demonize Iran. Hollywood has been doing that for years.," 14 Jan. 2020 The attacks that were made and the duplicity and dishonesty of the FBI were totally evident. Paul Gattis | Pgattis@al.com, al, "Should Jeff Sessions have recused himself from Russia investigation?," 9 Feb. 2020 Crocker, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, told government interviewers that Pakistani leaders did not bother to hide their duplicity. Craig Whitlock, Anchorage Daily News, "U.S. officials failed to devise a clear strategy for the war in Afghanistan, documents show," 9 Dec. 2019 This duplicity is, as the museum called it, part of the American paradox: a museum that represents both stagnancy and change, advancement and retrogression, black America and the rest. Maya Phillips, The New Yorker, "The Smithsonian’s Black-History Museum Will Always Be a Failure and a Success," 24 Oct. 2019

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

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Last Updated

11 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Duplicity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duplicity. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for duplicity


How to pronounce duplicity (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duplicity

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with duplicity

Spanish Central: Translation of duplicity

Nglish: Translation of duplicity for Spanish Speakers

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