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

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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.

Example Sentences

He exposed the spy's duplicity. we were lucky not to be taken in by his duplicity
Recent Examples on the Web Seen this way, any incorporation of people of color in its ranks can only be understood as tokenism, duplicity, and manipulation. Daniel Martinez Hosang, The New Republic, 9 Dec. 2022 The duplicity that the editorial calls historic could end if legislation were passed that straightforwardly entitled every high-school graduate to a free college education. WSJ, 16 Sep. 2022 The federal student-loan program is one of the greatest policy failures, and one of the greatest examples of government duplicity, in history. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 11 Sep. 2022 As the day goes on, Zahara and Samad become entangled in a dangerous dance of duplicity and deception. Emiliano De Pablos, Variety, 6 Aug. 2022 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 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.

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 6 Feb. 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

History and Etymology for duplicity

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

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