Simanaitis Says

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WELL I’LL BE duped! It turns out I’ve deceived myself for years by associating the word “dupe” with the word “duplicity.” However, in expanding my Etymology for our Times, I learned this isn’t the case. One of these words has a high-faluting Latin heritage; the other traces its etymology to the birds.

Duplicity. According to Merriam-Webster, duplicity is a “contrary doubleness of thought, speech, or action…especially the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action.”

Duplicity comes from the Latin word duplum, meaning “double.” Another related English word is “duplex,” describing some sort of double home, two-way communication, or DNA characteristic.

The Oxford English Dictionary includes “double-dealing” in its definition of duplicity, with the earliest example from the fifteenth century. It also quotes J. Payne, writing in 1597, “Suche ys the choyce that these make of duplicitie and hypocrisie.”

Dupe has a related meaning, but quite a different etymology. Merriam-Webster defines the noun “dupe” as “one that is easily deceived or cheated: a fool.” The OED also offers the related verb meaning “to deceive, delude, befool, or cheat.”

Jonathan Swift wrote in 1704, “Those entertainments and pleasures we most value in life, are such as dupe and play the wag with the senses.”

Hmm…. “Play the wag….” So much etymology; so little time.

Both dictionaries trace dupe to the Middle French duppe, a stupid person. This derived from the French d’uppe, “of the uppe,” and this is where the etymology takes a virage très intéressant.

The uppe aka huppe aka hoopoe aka Upupa epops is a colorful bird found across Afro-Eurasia. It is particularly notable for its distinctive headdress.

This common hoopoe shown above was photographed in Maharashta, India. Image by Shantanu Kuveskar. The one below, having just captured an insect, is showing off its crest. Image by Artemy Voikhansky.

The hoopoe was considered sacred in ancient Egypt and, since 2008, has been the national bird of Israel. Hoopoes found their way into the Quran, the Torah, other religious texts, and literature. For example, a hoopoe is the king in Aristophanes’ The Birds.

Hoopoe on Bamboo, by Zhao Mengfu, c. 1254–1322.

On the other hand, the hoopoe developed a bad rep in much of medieval Europe. In Scandinavia it was a harbinger of war; in Estonia, it was linked to death and the underworld.

And, somehow, in Middle French, d’uppe evolved into a less than favorable description of a person.

Well, at least in this regard, I’m duped no longer. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

One comment on “DUPED, DUPLICITY

  1. David Thomas
    June 13, 2018

    Look at you with the bird talk !!

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