Q&A: Versus and versing

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Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language. This week, we’re up against it with an exploration of “versus”…

Q: Hi AWC, I keep hearing kids say “versing”. As in, “our team is versing your team this weekend”. Surely that’s not a “thing” is it?
A: Haha, welcome to the English language! Take a seat.

Q: I’d prefer to stand.
A: Okay, well what you’re hearing is slang and apparently very common with kids these days. It is thought to have been picked up through video game terminology, but also through the ambiguous sound of the word “versus”.

Q: Don’t you mean “verses”?
A: No way. “Verses” doesn’t refer to “against” or “in opposition to”.

Q: Right, sorry about that – I’m clearly not versed in all things language related.
A: Aha, so you’ve just used the one legitimate way to say “versed” – when referring to learning something, e.g. “I’m not well versed-in this subject” or “I’m versing myself in the complete works of Shakespeare”.

Q: But kids say “when we versed your team, we won 26-18″…
A: Yes they do, and no, it isn’t proper usage. What they are doing with this and “versing” is thinking that the original “versus” is a verb, when it’s in fact a preposition.

Q: A preppy what?
A: A preposition is a word that shows a noun or pronoun’s relationship with another word in a sentence. The common ones are things like: on, in, above, through, below and before.

Q: Australia versus New Zealand. Okay, so that is easy enough. Why would they think it was a verb?
A: Imagine a reporter saying: “coming up, Australia versus New Zealand”. Now, to read it, it’s clear. But it’s also possible for those still learning the language (e.g. children) to mishear it as “coming up, Australia verses New Zealand” just like it could be “coming up, Australia plays New Zealand”.

Q: Ahhh. Okay, so they think that if “play” can have “playing” and “played” then so can “versus”.
A: Yep, and probably explains why many grow up thinking the base word is “verses” because that’s how it would go if that were possible.

Q: But it’s still wrong for kids to say “versing”, yeah?
A: Absolutely. And typically they will grow out of it. Worryingly, it does seem to be appearing in adult usage more and more.

Q: Must be just a fad. I’ve only heard it in the past few years.
A: Well, I hope you’re sitting down for this.

Q: Nope, I decided to stand, remember?
A: Okay, well the incidence of “‘versing” has been around for over 30 years – first documented in the early ’80s in New York.

Q: Wow, who knew…
A: We did.

Q: True. So, one final thing, when using it as an abbreviation, is there a correct way to write “versus”?
A: Great question. Of course writing it in full is fine, but if you feel it would be better shortened, then there seem to be four options – or just two that depend on where you live. So if it’s related to an actual legal case (i.e. Roe v Wade) then just “v” is the method – Americans will put a full stop after it, British (and Australia) tend not to bother. For everything else – e.g. sports or elections or gangster rapping, then it’s “vs” – and again, the Americans go with “vs.” while it’s more common in Australia to just go with “vs” without a full stop. Lower case throughout is fine.

Q: Thanks for the explanation. I wasn’t feeling all that versed, but now it’s the reverse!