Vice vs. vise

In the U.S., the word for the clamping tool comprising two jaws closed and opened by a screw or lever is spelled vise. Outside American English, the vise spelling rarely appears. The gripping tool is instead spelled vice. This word of course has several other meanings in all varieties of English, including (1) immorality, and (2) an undesirable habit. For these senses, vice is so spelled even in the U.S.

Although vise is now an American spelling, it is old. The word for the tool has origins in the Latin vitis, meaning vine, and over the centuries it has been used to describe many spiraling things, including staircases and screws. For all the word’s spiral-related senses, vise has been a common secondary spelling for many centuries. That spelling usually gave way to vice, however, until the early 19th century, when it was put to use in American industrial writing. By later in that century, vise was standard American English for the tool and related senses.

Examples

Vise (U.S.)

The vise on the middle class tightened last year, driving down its share of the income pie. [Washington Post]

For hundreds of years, woodworkers have relied on bench vises as a third hand to hold stock. [American Woodworker]

In the past, when he hugged you, you’d lose your breath for a moment or two, his muscular arms wrapping around you like a vise. [Chicago Tribune]

Vice (U.S.)

It was a vice that went charmingly with all that conspicuous virtue. [New York Times]

The dot-com boom was in full swing, and the twin vices of porn and gambling made the Internet a hot place to be. [Slate]

Vice (outside the U.S.)

It will be six of the best if the Barnton boys can win the event again next year after retaining their vice-like grip on the title. [Edinburgh Evening News]

Myocardial infarction: Vice-like central chest pain that often spreads to the jaw and down one or both arms. [Oxford Handbook of Adult Nursing]

It has been dawning on me lately that I often upbraid my children for vices that I myself share. [News.com.au]

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