In honor of Big Game weekend, a couple of football-related items.
You've heard of the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. (Gooooo, naming rights!) But you may not have known—I didn't—that some two-year colleges have bowl games, too. In the Bay Area, we have the Eagle Bowl, the Bulldog Bowl, and the Silicon Valley Bowl. And in the Central Valley, Modesto Junior College will host its 17th annual Graffiti Bowl tomorrow. Where does "Graffiti" come from? Well, Modesto is the home town of director George Lucas, who memorialized his high school experience in the 1973 film American Graffiti. The movie was actually shot not in Modesto but a couple of hours north, in Petaluma; nevertheless, Modesto has adopted "Graffiti" in a slew of civic names, including Graffiti Night (the first Saturday after high school graduation), the American Graffiti Festival (sponsored by the Kiwanis), and Graffiti Summer.
Modesto also has the most poetic city slogan in the United States:
Photo by Thomas Hawk.
Joan Didion wrote about that sign in Slouching Towards Bethlehem; it's how you distinguish Modesto from its Central Valley neighbor Merced, she said.
While going a-googling for that Modesto info, I discovered the Versus Channel, which is what Outdoor Life Network became in September 2006. As OLN, the channel focused on fishing and hunting; now it's an indoor-outdoor network that broadcasts extreme sports, hockey, "combat sports," and even darts. It's owned by Comcast.
I like Versus as the name of a sports channel: it speaks directly to the competitive spirit, even echoing gladiators and chariot races. (Versus is Latin, after all.)
But I found myself veering away from TV to ponder "versus," the word. In fact, I've been waiting for a branding moment to share these thoughts.
Versus is a preposition; in English, it doesn't change form. Or isn't supposed to. However, back in 2005 Neal Whitman wrote in his blog, Literal-Minded, about what he thought was his young son's idiosyncratic use of "versing" as a participle to mean "fighting against in a contest." It turns out that "to verse [someone/something]" isn't all that rare. Language Hat wrote about it, too, and one of his commenters (a Canadian, for what it's worth) offered that he'd been using "to verse" since the late 1970s or early 1980s.
But wait, there's more! I've been hearing a lot of constructions like one LeBron James used in a radio interview: "The Cavaliers verse [some other team]." (Apologies; I haven't been able to find the clip. I'll post a link if I locate it.) James was using verse the way another speaker might use versus, to mean against, but he was ... what? Conjugating it? Inflecting it? Truncating it? Imposing some hypercorrect notion of subject-preposition agreement?
This non-poetic verse shows up in print, too. It's a multi-sport infraction: See "Yankees verse the Phillies," "Lions verse Rams," "the avalanche verse the flyers" (anonymous commenter at 10:17 a.m.).