The expression "vice versa" seems to have been used to express something opposite, but there are a bunch of "opposite" things.

My question is when one writes or says

When they go low [TL], we go high [WH]. And vice versa,

what do the readers and listeners think?

  1. when we go high, they go low (when WH, then TL; WH => TL)
  2. when they go high, we go low (opposite of TL => opposite of WH)
  3. when they don't go low, we don't go high (not TL => not WH)
  4. etc.
  • You can't sensibly say "vice versa" with the aphorism "when they go low, we go high." The phrase vice versa means that the two things are interchangeable or equivalent. But when we go high and they go low, the two groups are doing opposite things, so they can't be interchanged or said to be equivalent. – Canadian Yankee May 2 '18 at 2:50
  • Vice versa refers to the converse of a statement, i.e of an implication. – Alex D May 2 '18 at 3:43
  • @CanadianYankee I haven't gotten your point yet. Do average folks think/feel/judge it's strange, meaningless, stupid or funny as a result? – takasimiz May 16 '18 at 0:55
  • @AlexD Is that "1. when we go high, they go low?" this one is what I personally thought. – takasimiz May 16 '18 at 1:06
  • 2
    I may be mistaken, but I think it's incredibly unlikely Clinton would have wanted anyone to assume an implicit ...and vice versa when coming out with this little dictum. In context, what she meant was If our political opponents descend to smear tactics, we will respond by claiming the moral high ground - which is a perfectly acceptable position to take when campaigning. The corollary If they claim the moral high ground we will respond with smear tactics is NOT a publicly acceptable campaign strategy. Perhaps that's partly why Clinton lost (because people did pick up on that! :) – FumbleFingers May 16 '18 at 13:23

The way the statements are written means that TL is necessary and sufficient condition for WH.

I don't include much detail in my answer, because it delves into formal logic, which is not the subject of this stack; however, I could expand my answer if you would like me to.

It is worth noting that logic does not correspond to casual language at a semantic level.

  • You mean (TL => WH) & (WH => TL) in classical logic? – takasimiz Jun 2 '18 at 16:17

In this context:

We react to what they do. We can't change what they do. And we are assuming that they are going to take some action.

So the "vice versa" here would generally be interpreted as:

When they go low, we go high.

And when they go high, we go low.

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