January 16, 2007

Vis-à-vis, Coincidentally

I can’t remember the last time I used the phrase “vis-à-vis.” The dictionary I’m using lists three definitions:

  1. Face to face with (or opposite to)
  2. Compared with
  3. In relation to

But I never feel the needs to use it. And I feel that if I start using it, I’ll sound weird or pretentious.

It’s the third definition that I’m most familiar with, so I’m surprised to see it in “last place.” I think my primary exposure to this phrase is from Britcom sketches, and in particular Monty Python.

The phrase appears in the lyrics to Monty Python’s “Eric the Half-a-Bee”:

“Half a bee, philosophically, must ipso facto half not be. But half the bee has got to be vis à vis his entity - d’you see?”

I guess that’s the third definition - He’s got to be, according to the fact that that it exists. Or something like that. Coincidentally, I use an HTML “entity” to get the blog to display the correct “à” character in the phrase “vis-à-vis.” Singing: “La dee dee, one, two three, Eric the half-a-bee.”

Also, in The Man With Three Buttocks sketch. The host is trying to discreetly engage the guest on the subject of his posterior abnormalities:

Host: Mr Frampton, er, vis a vis your… (pause) rump.

Frampton: I beg your pardon?

Host: Your rump.

Frampton: What?

Host: Er, your derriere. (Whispers) Posterior. Sit-upon.

Frampton: What’s that?

Host (whispers): Your buttocks.

Frampton: Oh, me bum!

Host (hurriedly): Sshhh!

Again, the third meaning. Regarding your rump.

Coincidentally, this is a great sketch which tackles the idea of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof, something that skeptics like me are often complaining about.

Host: No, er look, er Mr Frampton. It’s quite easy for somebody just to come along here claiming… that they have a bit to spare in the botty department. The point is, our viewers need proof.

Luckily, the Randi Foundation can see there way clear to testing Mr. Frampton, (see previous post) because he’s already gotten media coverage:

Frampton: I been on Persian Radio, and the Forces’ Network!

Er, what was this post supposed to be about?

Posted by James at January 16, 2007 12:01 PM
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I believe this post may have strayed vis-a-vis its point.

Posted by: briwei at January 17, 2007 12:15 PM

I think the phrase "vis-a-vis" was used when "the architect" gave his ridiculously long, boring, obtuse speech to Neo in the second Matrix, which just made the speech sound all the more pretentious and ridiculous.

Posted by: Maggie at January 17, 2007 12:33 PM

I think the meaning "face to face" must come from the French "visage," which means "face."

Posted by: Patti M. at January 17, 2007 12:50 PM

I used this just the other day. I guess I use vis-a-vis about twice or three times a month. Maybe I'm pretentious.

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at January 17, 2007 1:42 PM

I don't think you're pretentious if you use the phrase. I just don't feel comfortable when I use it. I hope nobody takes it as a slight. Obviously, it's part of the language.

I agree with Maggie about its use in "Matrix Reloaded" mainly because of the context. "The Architect" was a horribly pretentious character, in my opinion. But so were a lot of characters in that movie.

Beatifully skewered by Will Ferell in this parody.

Posted by: James at January 17, 2007 2:06 PM

It wasn't the phrase that made The Architect sound pretentious, it was that he couldn't integrate it naturally into an intelligent-sounding sentence. Kind of like fireman/policeman speak when they're on the local news, and "people" get inflated into "perpetrators" and "individuals," fires become "immolation incidents," and the rules of grammar fly out the window. I didn't mean that anybody who can use the phrase in the natural context of their day was pretentious.

Posted by: Maggie at January 17, 2007 2:10 PM

You need an html entity to get à to appear?

Posted by: Julie at January 17, 2007 2:36 PM

What I said about the entities was a shorter version of a much longer boring technical explanation. You can imbed the accented character and have browsers interpret it, but it's not standard for the version of HTML that my blog is supposedly using.

Not that I'm even close to standards-compliant, but some software I use to process my posts actually does care.

So, "yes." However, the comments section does not place such restrictions on comments, even though they might not interpret correctly in all browsers.

Posted by: James at January 17, 2007 2:53 PM

Oh, I get it. Hmm. I wonder if my ñ's and á's and ü's look okay on a Mac.

Posted by: Julie at January 17, 2007 3:42 PM

They didn't come through on the email that the blog software sends me every time a comment is posted, because they're not email-compatible characters.

Posted by: James at January 17, 2007 5:26 PM

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