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?

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.

Example Sentences

He exposed the spy's duplicity. we were lucky not to be taken in by his duplicity
Recent Examples on the Web That is even worse — even worse than the pols’ duplicity. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 21 Apr. 2023 The prospect of duplicity from one of the characters briefly hangs in the air, before being neatly resolved before the closing credits. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Apr. 2023 When does multiplicity shade into duplicity or superficiality? Merve Emre, The New Yorker, 27 Feb. 2023 But for Wisner and his agency, duplicity and disinformation weren’t just tools to be used abroad. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 7 Aug. 2021 Jason Culp narrates this and a later section, bringing an authoritative approach to a tale that is filled with formidable twists, duplicity and stunning revelations. Katherine A. Powers, Star Tribune, 28 May 2021 Condemnation was even louder from Republicans, who have seized on Cuomo’s performance on nursing homes — where more than 10,000 New Yorkers have died during the pandemic, but the state long stalled on releasing full data — as evidence of duplicity or even criminality. BostonGlobe.com, 12 Feb. 2021 But Vescio wonders if Shanti ultimately did discover Dave's duplicity on the night she was murdered. Erin Moriarty, CBS News, 5 June 2021 Party observers say the drive for centralization in a sprawling nation too often fosters bureaucratic inertia, duplicity and other unproductive practices that are aimed at satisfying Beijing and protecting careers but threaten to undermine Mr. Xi’s goals. James Freeman, WSJ, 8 Mar. 2021 See More

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 8 Jun. 2023.

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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