Versus, verse, versing

I’m fascinated by the way that language changes.

And while it’s often tempting to speak out against the ‘incorrect’ use of language, most often the force for change is so strong that we can do little more than take note.

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that the words used by children to describe sporting competitions do not follow typical dictionary definitions. They’ve taken the preposition ‘versus’ and turned it into a word with great flexibility.

During the sports report at our local primary school, I hear ‘Last week we versed Wilston and won’, and ‘Next week we’ll be versing Kelvin Grove’. My children constantly ‘verse’ each other in battle.

I’ve taken to asking parents and teachers about the use of ‘verse’, ‘versing’ and ‘versed’ instead of ‘versus’ or ‘played against’ … and the thing that has surprised me most is that no one else seems to notice.

Last week I heard it on the radio for the first time … that Team A ‘versed’ Team B. And it was Radio National!

I wonder whether this change is happening everywhere? And I wonder how long it will take for the dictionaries to catch up?

At the moment, we have these definitions in the Oxford:

  • Versus: against or as opposed to
  • Verse: writing arranged with a metrical rhythm
  • Versing: to speak in verse
  • Versed: experienced or skilled in

Will they all come to mean different aspects of ‘against (in a sporting sense)’? And does it really matter?