I hear people use the term vis-à-vis all the time in place of what I believe should more correctly be for example or that is.
What is the most generally accepted correct and appropriate use of vis-à-vis, and what are its origins?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
According to The Phrase Finder, the term is French and literally meant face-to-face. When the English picked it up in the 18th century, they started using it to describe a type of horse-drawn carriage wherein there are two seats, allowing occupants to sit across from one another in a face-to-face fashion.
Usage eventually extended to include the alternate meaning of with regard to, and in modern-day discourse it is accepted to use with regard to and vis-à-vis interchangeably. In fact, many people will get confused when you use it to convey its original meaning since the alternate meaning has overshadowed it.
As a complement to the other answers, as to the origins, here are the ways the phrase is used in French, which maybe helpful to gain a better insight of the various usages in English.
In French, 'vis-à-vis' can be used as a preposition, an adverb or a noun.
Facing, in the presence of:
She sat on the other side of the table, vis-à-vis John.
(archaic, regional Canada) Compared to :
He found it shameful to lose his temper vis-à-vis the old man.
Relative to, figuratively:
Jack swore me to secrecy, even vis-à-vis his daughter
To be facing:
If the windows are vis-à-vis, the ventilation is improved
Phrasal adverb, qualifier:
Leaning against the door jamb vis-à-vis, dressed in a grass skirt, she...
Person facing someone else:
By chance, my eyes fell on Edwin, my vis-à-vis
The opposite facade:
The windows had curtains, so there was no vis-à-vis, only the blank wall
To be facing:
She was vis-à-vis her husband, a pretty little thing she was too, ...
To be facing, reflexively:
The café and the church were vis-à-vis
To move into a facing position:
They sat down vis-à-vis, each in his corner, ..
(rare) To be facing (in English this renders no differently to the above) :
They were seated on chairs, (en) vis-à-vis the altar
Carriage with two facing seats:
I could see myself arriving at midnight, in my olive vis-à-vis, at the Opera gate.
Small sofa, where two people can talk conveniently:
The two women sat down on the vis-à-vis and nattered endlessly
(adapted from cntrl.fr)
IMO, these days the expression vis-à-vis is often used in sentences where a comparison is being made.
Let's say I am enumerating features of iPhone.I could then say, The choice for applications is certainly much higher in the iPhone OS (125,000 vis-à-vis 20,000 for the Android) (example extracted from internet)
Canadian dollar vis-à-vis selected currencies (when talking about exchange rates perhaps?)
(Example title of a research paper as extracted from the internet): Comparative Competitive Aspects of Japanese Use of Human Resources vis-à-vis United States and Canada
---- and so forth. It is mostly used to paint a picture of something "pitted against" or "in the face of" or "as opposed to" something else.
Hope this helps.