du·​plic·​i·​ty du̇-ˈpli-sə-tē How to pronounce duplicity (audio)
 also  dyu̇-
plural duplicities
: 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 oursMary Austin
especially : the belying of one's true intentions by deceptive words or action
: the quality or state of being double or twofold
law : the technically incorrect use of two or more distinct items (such as claims, charges, or defenses) in a single legal action

Did you know?

We’ve all probably dealt with someone who acted a little two-faced—they said one thing and did another, for example, or they talked “from both sides of their mouth.” If such behavior has made you do a double take or left you feeling double-crossed, you may be single-minded in your quest to learn more about duplicity. Duplicity comes from a long line of “double” talk, starting with its Latin ancestor duplex, which means “double” or “twofold.” Duplex is also the source of the English word duplex (which can be a noun meaning “a two-family house” or an adjective meaning “double”), and it is the root of another term for doubling it up, duplicate.

Did you know?

The Double Nature of Duplicity and Duplicitous

The idea of doubleness is at the core of duplicity and duplicitous. Duplicity is the older of the pair; it 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 the hidden 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

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 Jack, meanwhile, has been stewing about Charmaine's duplicity for the whole episode and angrily shows up at her house to talk. Sara Netzley, EW.com, 7 Sep. 2023 The duplicity begins with assuming that the deficit is billions of dollars smaller than Petek’s estimate. Dan Walters, The Mercury News, 27 Mar. 2024 There was no clue of Mizuhara’s alleged duplicity early on, as the story began to unfold out of public view and Ohtani’s representatives rolled into action. Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, 27 Mar. 2024 And yet there were just as many moments when Everett seemed open to the duplicity involved in biographical journalism—titillated, even, by the idea of participating in it. Maya Binyam, The New Yorker, 11 Mar. 2024 But the scam lent itself to duplicity: No one was ever sure who was working with whom, who might be screwing someone else over, or who had started the whole thing. Longreads, 5 Mar. 2024 What emerges from filings, public records and interviews are the contours of a life layered with duplicity and mystery. Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, 26 Feb. 2024 That duplicity of reverence and appetite for creative independence carries over into the second game of the trilogy, the upcoming PlayStation 5 title Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Christopher Cruz, Rolling Stone, 26 Feb. 2024 Cooper, finally understanding that Red has sent the Task Force to essentially destroy the most important parts of his work, is baffled and all riled up about Red's continuing duplicity. Tanya Melendez, EW.com, 30 June 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'duplicity.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near duplicity

Cite this Entry

“Duplicity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duplicity. Accessed 27 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


du·​plic·​i·​ty d(y)u̇-ˈplis-ət-ē How to pronounce duplicity (audio)
plural duplicities
: deception by pretending to feel and act one way while feeling and acting another

Legal Definition


du·​plic·​i·​ty dü-ˈpli-sə-tē, dyü- How to pronounce duplicity (audio)
plural duplicities
: the use of deceptive words or actions
: 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

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

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