Collingwood is VERSING Essendon

A couple of months ago I was chatting about cricket with my 14 year old godson, and I couldn’t help but notice when he said ‘We’re versing Hurstbridge this weekend’.

I was immediately reminded of the wonderful book Gift of the Gob, by Monash University’s Chair of Linguistics, Kate Burridge.

As the big ANZAC Day match between the Magpies and the Bombers is just a few weeks away, it seems timely to write about a part of her book which I found particularly interesting.

In the chapter Slanguage on the Move she uses the example Collingwood ‘is versing’ Essendon to discuss a new verb on the scene (to verse), amusing some people and making others hostile. Kate explains that

‘Younger speakers have reanalyzed this word versus as verses and have then taken away what looks to be a verb ending to create to verse. This is not evidence that the language is going to the dogs. “Backformation”, as it is called, is a well-recognised process that has given rise to many new words, now very much part of the standard language.’

She explains that backformation has given us common verbs such as

  • enthuse (from enthusiasm)
  • liaise (from liaison) and
  • televise (from television).

Gift of the Gob is a fascinating read for anyone interested in old and new words and phrases, and the way the English language continues to evolve.


Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History
Kate Burridge, 2010
Harper Collins


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