On our way to Field Day last Friday, one of my students asked me, “Are we going to verse the orange house classes, or just purple house?” (Yes, our school is divided into houses like Hogwarts, but that’s a different story.)
“Verse is not a verb,” I replied.
He made an aggravated noise. “Are we going to versus the orange house classes?”
“Versus isn’t a verb either.”
The expression on his face showed he wasn’t getting any satisfaction out of our conversation. “Are we going against orange house?” he demanded.
“Going is a weak verb,” I said. “Are we competing against orange house? Or: Are we playing against orange house? Those would be good ways of asking the question.”
At that point, he ran away to talk to someone else.
I fight the grammar battle every day – as pleasantly as I can – but I think I’m losing.
Aarrgh! How I railed against that expression when I first heard it! Bad is an adjective! You can’t say: My bad! The modifier my requires a noun somewhere in the construction! My bad mistake: now that would be okay. I fought it and fought it – and then one day I used it.
I sucked in my breath in horror. I had succumbed. It was a dark day.
The English language developed from the Germanic tribes of the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. It has always been a living, changing, versatile language, although the invention of the dictionary slowed its evolution (freezing some really weird spelling patterns that might otherwise have disappeared over time). I wonder if, back in the day, children speaking Middle English sneered at their parents, saying, “Oh, forsooth that!” while the parents chastised them: “Forsooth is an adverb! You can’t use it like a verb!”
I have no problem with new usage of words that reflect our changing technology. Yes, google is a verb, and so is friend … if you’re talking about Facebook. But transformations bred of pure laziness and lack of understanding of words – I am bound and determined to fight that. (Note: I didn’t say I’mma fight that!)
The day I hear myself ask my family, “Does anyone want to verse me in Scrabble?” I will slap myself silly.