Vice Versa and Vis-à-Vis
The following quotation appeared in a newspaper article about a school where parents are encouraged to visit their children’s classroom:
the more parent visitors we have, the more they trust us and vis-à-vis.
I think the principal intended to say, “the more parent visitors we have, the more they trust us and vice versa.”
The only thing the two expressions have in common is that they alliterate.
English vis-a-vis [vee-zuh-vee] is from French vis-à-vis, “face to face.” It can be used as noun, preposition, or adverb.
As a noun, vis-à-vis can refer to:
1. a person or a thing situated opposite another. Example: At the table, my vis-a-vis was a woman dressed all in black and wearing a veil.
2. one’s opposite number or counterpart. Example: At the international conference of editors, my Russian vis-a-vis was a short, chubby man with a cheerful countenance and a ready laugh.
3. a meeting. Example: Reggie’s first vis-a-vis with the new commander left him shaking.
As a preposition, vis-à-vis can be used to mean literally “face to face with,” or in the sense of “in relation to”:
At the town meeting, a farmer sat vis-à-vis the Mayor.
The citizens had called the meeting vis-à-vis a proposed redistricting.
As an adverb, vis-à-vis means “opposite, so as to face each other.” Example: On the mantelpiece the actor’s two Oscars stood vis-à-vis.
The other expression, vice versa [vahys-vur-suh] or [vahy-suh vur-suh], came into English directly from Latin from a word meaning “turn.” It’s used as an adverb meaning “with a reversal or transposition of the main items in the statement just made.”
It can be used with or without a restatement of the previous item:
…the constellations do shift, so that what you see during the summer is overhead during the day in the winter and vice versa, the constellations you saw in winter, are overhead in the summer.
…the constellations do shift, so that what you see during the summer is overhead during the day in the winter and vice versa.
Some bloggers ridicule speakers who pronounce vice versa with four syllables, but they are mean-spirited and uninformed. The OED puts the three-syllable pronunciation first, but acknowledges the four-syllable pronunciation as an alternate. Merriam-Webster puts the four-syllable pronunciation first. As a blogger named ClarE has pointed out, if we want to get picky, maybe we should reject both English efforts and try to pronounce it like classical Latin: [wee-kay wer-sah].
The important thing is not to say vice versa when what you mean is vis-à-vis–and vice versa.
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