duplicity

noun
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

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 These feelings only intensified when Paul schemed his way into a romantic relationship with a senior producer on a Tucker Carlson-like cable news show and hatched a dramatic plan to reveal the duplicity and callousness of his right-wing enemies. Dan Kubis, BostonGlobe.com, 7 July 2022 The release of the audio of Mr. McCarthy’s comments was a rare moment where the duplicity was on display. New York Times, 22 Apr. 2022 Hamm’s character, via suave duplicity, is trying to stop them. Sarah Larson, The New Yorker, 4 July 2022 The deceptions and symmetries are standard, but this is the kind of movie that rises or falls on whether the actors can carry the duplicity — and the innocence — aloft. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 1 July 2022 Neighbors have gathered to contemplate the gravity of the rabbi’s sin, the nature of evil and the lingering shock that a pillar of the community could have been capable of such murderous duplicity. Charles Mcnultytheater Critic, Los Angeles Times, 5 July 2022 But what’s most interesting, and what connects this novel with the others set in wartime—A Guardian Angel Recalls and The Darkroom of Damocles—are questions of identity, authenticity, and duplicity. Francine Prose, Harper’s Magazine , 22 June 2022 It’s not politicians who run on sanctimony but live in duplicity. Washington Post, 9 May 2022 The warlock’s pot stocked with hypocrisy calling the kettle brimming with duplicity black. Nick Canepacolumnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 May 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About duplicity

Time Traveler for duplicity

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About duplicity

Dictionary Entries Near duplicity

duplicitous

duplicity

duplicity theory

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for duplicity

Last Updated

19 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Duplicity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duplicity. Accessed 19 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for duplicity

duplicity

noun
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

Nglish: Translation of duplicity for Spanish Speakers

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!