versus » verses

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • Alex Trebek hosts this famous game show, consisting of Ash, who is versing Gary, who is versing Pikachu. Who will prove themselves as the best? (
  • In this episode, the BBA Revolution is versing the Barthez Battalion. (Generation Beyblade Anime Extreme group on MSN)
  • Knights are versing everyone in the top 8……mainly…… (link)
  • but if you do get it i will verse you and spank your ass like a little skanky biach. i will verse you on zansibar no time limit 5o kills to win and you might just get 2 if your lucky. (link)
  • i’ll verse you at chess, i played for awhile and am fairly good, just name a site. (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • William J. Rapaport (Linguist List 15-334, 21 December 2004)
  • Amy West (e-mail of 22 December 2004)
  • Ted Mellow (Nathan Bierma's "On Language" column in the Chicago Tribune, 13 July 2005)
  • Language Hat (Budge/Verse)

So far it seems to be mostly a kid thing. But they’ll be adults soon…

Rapaport’s posting:

Has anyone noticed the use of “versus” as a verb, as in:

“I versed him in Yu-Gi-Oh yesterday.”

“Who are you versing in the tournament?”

It seems to come from a misunderstanding, based on pronunciation, of “versus” as “verses” (i.e., of a Latin term misheard as an English
3rd-person verb): The headline “Michael vs. Tyler” is heard as the active sentence “Michael verses Tyler”.

I first heard this within the last year from my 9-year-old son and his friends. They define it as “to battle”.

West’s mail:

My 8-year-old son says this quite often, and not just in the context of the dreaded trading card games (Yu-Gi-oh, Pokemon, etc.) When he’s reading the sports pages he’ll say things like “The Patriots versed Green Bay.” Or “I’ll verse you in chess.” I’ve always assumed it to be as you say a faulty analysis of versus as a verb. If you really want, I’ll listen more closely next time. I think I’ve also heard him use it with a preposition.

Mellow as quoted by Bierma:

My son, and in fact every other child in my area who is involved in sports, uses a verb to indicate which team he is competing against: “to verse,” as in, “Who are we versing tonight?” Or, “We versed the Dodgers yesterday.” It obviously derives from the Latin preposition “versus.”

I had thought the use of this word in this way was peculiar to my town or at least only to the north/northwest suburbs [of Chicago]. What I found very interesting is that when I did a Web search on it I found the exact same word occurring as far away as Australia. Language is an amazing organic thing.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/07/18 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Chris Waigl , 2005/07/18 at 10:08 pm

    They may be kids, but there are hundreds of them happily versing on the web. I added a few quotes.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Ben Zimmer , 2005/07/19 at 5:58 am

    Both kids and adults were “versing” a decade ago. The Usenet archive suggests that the back-formation found popularity amongst gamers and then spread to wider usage in the mid-’90s:, 1995/02/13
    Its a fairly pointless exercise, Versing characters from
    different arcades against each other anyway…, 1995/09/23
    When versing the black car, remember that the first is a
    warmup lap…, 1996/01/22
    So if I’m right, the next one should be on 1/28 at 3pm
    est on ESPN2. Unfortunately, it’s versing the Superbowl!, 1996/06/10
    I have noticed one thing, there seems to be a lot of
    “B”s versing “S”s., 1996/09/27
    I saw a game with them, but I don’t know who they were
    versing …

  3. 3

    Commentary by codeman38 , 2005/07/28 at 5:51 pm

    See also Neil Whitman’s posting here:…

  4. 4

    Commentary by codeman38 , 2005/07/28 at 5:52 pm

    …And I can’t even spell his name right, despite the fact that I’m looking right at the page. Sorry, Neal.

  5. 5

    Commentary by Ben Zimmer , 2005/09/30 at 5:37 pm

    The back-formation has now been dated to 1984.

    New York Times, Feb. 20, 1984, p. B3
    “Latest Word: New Yorkese Of ‘84 Is Here”
    To verse: High school slang meaning to compete against another school’s
    team, as in “We’re going to be versing the Brown Bombers next week.” From
    the preposition “versus.”

  6. 6

    Commentary by Frank , 2006/01/30 at 3:34 am

    In French, the verb “verser” can mean to overturn or upset - words which, in English, have competitive connotations. Even if it’s not true, perhaps, for our own sanity, we can attribute this development to an adaptation of the French “verser, ” rather than to the cringeworthy mauling of “versus.”

    (And yes, I am aware that they both share the same latin root)

  7. 7

    Commentary by Lotus , 2006/11/02 at 7:38 am

    It’s not only kids who verse each other in soccer games. I have heard this one from teachers as well.

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