Friday, April 16, 2004

A Child's Garden of Versus

A week or two ago, Doug was contemplating the fun he and his cousin could have if they could get together and do a two-player round of one of his videogames. He said:

(1) My Ice could verse his Flame.

Oho! I thought. A previously undetected misanalysis has now revealed itself!

The first I encountered the word versus was when the movie Kramer vs. Kramer came out. I was in 5th grade, so I could read the word on the movie posters at the same time as I was hearing it, and I never had a chance to interpret it as a 3rd person present tense of some unfamiliar verb. But Doug, who has spent a good it of time playing games on his Nintendo 64, has heard versus on numerous occasions. In particular, there's one game called "Super Smash Brothers," with all the characters from all the Nintendo games engaged in a big tournament, and at the beginning of every round, the announcer will say, "Mario versus Pikachu!" or "Link versus Jiggly Puff!" or something similar. If I were 5 years old, and heard the formula "X versus Y," without seeing it written down (or knowing how to read it if I did see it), what would the more rational conclusion be? That there is some weird preposition that I've never heard anywhere else, used only when two people are fighting, or that there is a verb, verse, which means "to fight"? Option B, of course! And all this time, when Doug and I talked about Mario vs. Pikachu, little did I know that I was saying Mario versus Pikachu while he was saying Mario verses Pikachu. Only now has our difference in understanding come to light. Who knows how many other differences like these are camouflaged, just waiting for the right kind of sentence or context to reveal them?

As with Doug's use of like (in a previous post), I expect we'll see more and more use of verse as a verb meaning "to fight" as Doug's generation grows up.

UPDATE: My prediction seems to be on the mark, at least judging by something Glen passed along to me:
[One of Glen's colleagues] says that the use of verse as a verb meaning "compete against" seems pretty common among young people. She said her son, who is about 9, uses it sometimes, and she's heard his friends use it, too. She said her son now understands the correct (or original) meaning of versus ... but that doesn't stop him from employing the new usage from time
to time.

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