Friday, August 12, 2005

V v Vs

I'm not pedantic about wordy stuff, but there are a couple of common mistakes that I find interesting.
England v Australia, or England vs. Australia - 'v' or 'vs.' or even 'versus' (I've also seen 'verses' in some places).
What I'm talking about is the little thing you put between names to show that two teams or people are taking each other in some kind of contest. OK, what's the big deal?
Most people think the 'v' stands for 'versus', and the ones who think about that sort of thing assume it's because 'versus' is the Latin for 'against'. Fine. Except they're wrong. 'Versus' does mean 'against', but so does 'contra', and it's 'contra' that the Romans would have used in the context of a match.
So where does the 'v' come from?
The 'v' stands for 'vel' which is the Latin word for 'or'. They would have used it to say something like: 'Maximus or Claudius is going to survive so that he can take on the tigers'. It makes a lot of sense if you think about knock-out competitions, where we write 'or' all the time.
For example, let's say Roddick's through to the Wimbledon semi-final - who's he playing? Federer or Henman - which the Romans would have written Federer v Henman (a match not all that different from the gladiator taking on the tigers).
In other words, each round is written with 'or' because one or the other player is going through to the next round.
Got that? The 'v' stands for 'vel'. So don't say 'versus', say 'v' or if you really want to be pretentious, say 'vel'. And don't write 'vs.' either. That's wrong too - there's no 's' in 'vel'.
The 'v' is still used all the time in Logic, when you're drawing a chart to work out the possibilities of a set of propositions. Logicians and philosophers have always known that it stands for 'vel', they've just been keeping quite about it. Possibly because they don't watch much football.
So there you go - one linguistic misconception I like to rant about. I'll tell you about the other one another time.


Anonymous said...

Good rant!

Thanks for the present! It arrived on our anniversary (different one, when we met) which was very smart.

How is your chilli? If it is still worse for wear, stand a bucket of water in your conservatory for a day (to warm the water) then stand the chilli in the bucket for another day. When you water it next, give it an organic tomato feed to perk it up (recommended every week during fruiting season).

If it is a gonner - save some seeds from mature ripe fruit and grow on or let me know and I shall furnish you with a replacement next season.

Hope all is well,


James Casey said...

Romanes eunt domus!

Anonymous said...

But what about v in a legal context e.g. R v Craig? Does that mean "or" also, or is it "against" which is what they taught us in law school...??