Word for Wednesday: Vis-a-vis

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This week’s Word for Wednesday borrows from French word for face: ‘visage’. It’s a phrase that occurs in conversation from time to time, often to the befuddlement of those involved.

Vis-à-vis’, pronounced ‘vee-za-vee’ literally translates to ‘face-to-face’, the catchy phrase was supposedly lifted from French sometime in the 18th Century. Initially vis-à-vis described a kind of two-seated horse-drawn carriage upon which the occupants would sit face to face.

As such, ‘vis-à-vis’ can be used to describe one thing (or individual) that is situated opposite or facing another. For example: ‘I sat vis-à-vis the president’.

In its more common usage, however, ‘vis-à-vis’ substitutes for the phrase: ‘with regard to’ and can be seen as a kind of verbal shorthand.

Hopefully this helps to clear things up. Vis-à-vis is a phrase that certainly used to leave me stumped!

Hugh MacDermott

25 Feb 2015
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