In a recent conversation on Facebook, I saw someone discussing the current presidential campaign, in which he referred to the fact that Ted Cruz was born in Canada but his mother is an American, therefore Cruz has “duel citizenship.” Naturally a Word Nerd installment was called for.
Dual: Two people or things, a pair, double.
Duel: A battle, contest or competition between two combatants.
Dual migrated to English around 1550, from the Latin dualis, a variation of duo, meaning two. In Ancient Greek, Old English, and some other languages, duo and similar words indicate that exactly two things are being referred to.
Duel comes to English about 40-50 years later, originating as duell; it originated with the Latin word bellum, meaning war (we refer to the period prior to the Civil War with the term antebellum, which means “before the war”). Some unknown folk poet merged bellum with duo to refer to a fight between two people, inventing the punnish term duellum.
If you refer to Batman’s “duel identity,” you’re saying Bruce Wayne is fighting against himself.
If you talk about “fighting a dual,” you’re battling your evil twin.
This is Word Nerd #62; you can find all the Word Nerd installments in the Word Nerd Index.