• vice •
Pronunciation: vais • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. (Noun) An immoral or depraved habit; a character flaw or merely a weakness. 2. (Adjective) Deputy, replacement, the official title of someone who serves as an understudy and replacement for someone else, as a vice president.
Notes: Today we have another TOFO sale: two words for the price of reading about one. The definitions above and histories below are too distinct to think vice is only one word. We needn't make it three, however. Many English dictionaries accept vice as an alternate spelling of vise. We feel that English suffers from enough spelling confusion, so this unrelated word should be spelled differently. We are moving away from attaching vice the adjective to the noun it modifies with a hyphen, e.g. vice-admiral, vice-principal, and using it rather as an independent adjective.
In Play: If we keep the spelling vise for the bench tool, we avoid confusion when we say things like, "The vice principal's major vice was in putting the finger of a misbehaving pupil in a vise as punishment." Even without the additional complication of misspelling vise, there is plenty of room for ambiguity using today's Good Words: "You say that Seamus Allgood is the vice manager of your company? In what sense of that phrase?" (Could Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was convicted for accepting bribes while in office, also have confused these two words?)
Word History: Vice in the first sense above comes via Old French from Latin vitium "flaw, fault". This word shares its origin with German wider "against" and English with, which originally meant "against". The adjectival vice comes from Latin vice, the ablative case form of *vix (vic-s) "change". The same root may be seen in vicar, originally a temporary or replacement cleric, and vicarious, experiencing something through someone else. (We are grateful that one of Mike Shea's 'vices' is spending time thinking about fascinating words like today's and sharing them with us.)