Is versing, meaning “competing against someone,” a real verb? In the past thirty years, this term has grown in popularity because versus, when spoken, sounds like a conjugated verb. So youngsters especially will talk about one team getting ready to verse another. Similar things happened with misunderstanding the plural forms of kudos (in ancient Greek, “glory”) and biceps (literally, “two-headed”) — both of those words were originally singular. This is part of a complete episode.
Probably incorrectly, but I always suspected the introduction of Nintendo’s “Vs. Tennis” and various “Vs.” sports games…oh, about 30 years ago when I was in college and hanging around the student union’s video arcade…as the cause for people using versing and versed:
The first time I heard one of my children use this – some time in early elementary, in relation to a soccer game (“what team are we versing this weekend?”), I was excited to catch an example of back-formation in the wild! Something I had learned in my Historical Linguistics class (~1984) was happening in front of my eyes. I had no idea it had such a wide use, although since then I’ve heard numerous kids use it with high frequency. (Same child used to say “Kick” for a single piece of Kix cereal when he was a toddler.)Â
And quite coincidentally, just last night I heard a fitness instructor say “bicep.” I wanted to let her know it was incorrect, but held my tongue…
No more than 30 days ago did I have talk with my 12 year old regarding his frequent use of “versing” and how that word is simply not a word (and grating to my ears!). After hearing this episode I’ve had a change of heart, and he’s resolved to continue to use the word at home and around friends, but to keep it out of school papers and formal conversations. I always appreciate how Grant reminds us that words can change meaning and usage over time, and how Martha sees every improperly used term as a learning opportunity for everyone. Thanks for resolving another family word-usage squabble!
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