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 The new information was provided to the Times by Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers that detailed the US government's duplicity in its handling of the Vietnam War. Ben Westcott, CNN, 24 May 2021 Early Christians deemed face paint suspect, a mark of duplicity, and for centuries unadorned beauty was prized. New York Times, 7 May 2021 White duplicity and betrayal drive the plot of each of these films, and none of them features a savior who might allow a white audience to preserve their innocence. Jonathan W. Gray, The New Republic, 21 Apr. 2021 The site of his first news story as a foreign correspondent is Gorky Park, where the crash detritus is on display as evidence of American duplicity. Washington Post, 16 Apr. 2021 Stagflation in particular, the impossible duplicity of high unemployment and high inflation. Brian Domitrovic, Forbes, 12 Apr. 2021 And cynicism, that alleged defense against duplicity, can have the upside-down effect of making the cynic particularly vulnerable to manipulation. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, 26 Feb. 2021 This kind of duplicity is why the tech industry is increasingly being viewed with suspicion. Brendan Eich, The Mercury News, 23 June 2019 Melvin Abston does suitably imposing work as Napoleon, gradually revealing the leader’s duplicity and cruelty with deft strokes. Tim Smith, baltimoresun.com, 13 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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The first known use of duplicity was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

27 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Duplicity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duplicity. Accessed 16 Jun. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on duplicity

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duplicity

Nglish: Translation of duplicity for Spanish Speakers


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