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Vis-a-vis

Vis-à-vis is a loanword from French, where it means face to face (derived from the French visage, meaning face). In English, it’s most commonly a preposition meaning in relation to or compared with, and it’s sometimes used to mean simply face to face.

The French grave accent over the is optional in English, but it appears more often than not in edited writing.


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Examples

“That Old Gang Of Mine” continues in that vein, and it ties up some loose ends vis-à-vis [involving?] Gunn and his old demon-hunting crew. [A.V. Club]

The progressive caucus can’t possibly be so stupidly loyal as to saddle the party with her toxic numbers for the next House election in 2012 too—especially given their endless crowing vis-à-vis [about?] Palin and centrists. [Hot Air]

Nancy Pelosi claimed that the report’s suggestions vis-a-vis [regarding?] entitlement reform were “simply unacceptable”. [Guardian]

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Comments

  1. Cruisingthru909 says:

    I first heard it in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou”. George Clooney’s character repeatedly states “…vis a vis my progeny…”.

  2. I am an International Relations researcher and have been annoyed by this term being used in every paper since around the year 2000. In many cases it is used to make a statement that is really unimpressive seem much more scholarly when instead it makes an unimpressive statement confusing and ambiguous. Why would anyone select ambiguous words over perfectly acceptable alternatives? To hide their laziness as a writer and to add to the pile of useless jargon that is already so popular in International Relations.

    • Right now I am editing someone’s paper in the field of international law, and it uses many phrases like “vis-a-vis”, “with respect to”, “as regards”, and “in relation to” that suggest a vague relationship between things that the author was unable to crystalize for the reader. I just googled “vis-a-vis” to see if anyone else shared my frustration. I am now convinced that, outside “O Brother Where Art Thou”, it has no place.

      • matthew_freytag says:

        If it has no place because it points to a vague relationship, then there’s no place for “with respect to,” “as regards,” etc. either. But sometimes a vague relationship is what you want to point to, in transition for example. “Vis-à-vis/With respect to/As regards the Khmer Rouge, I think that… ” — no problem or willful vagueness here. (There’s a sight metaphor at the root of all three, and it’s a little bit live-er in “vis-à-vis.”)

  3. The lecturer for my World Politics class says this so much that it has inspired me to fill my paper with it. I’ll stop after the class is done.

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