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Can anyone help me understand the correct usage of vis-a-vis in an English sentence? I hear it used in news and business reports and think that it has some snob apeal, but find it is distracting and perhaps less effective than using a more common word.

It’s a preposition and you can use it just like, and in place of, in relation to or as opposed to. Example:
What do you think of pie as opposed to cake?
What do you think of pie vis-à-vis cake? —Stephen 23:00, 23 November 2006 (UTC)