Grammar Nothing Poetic About This Verse |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Nothing Poetic About This Verse

Have you noticed how the abbreviation vs., meaning “against,” is pronounced these days? People read “Serbia vs. USA for the Gold Medal” and say “Serbia verse USA.” Yes, “verse”—one syllable—although vs. stands for versus here. That’s “verse-uss”—two syllables. When we hear this gaffe over the airwaves, are we imagining things or do the announcers sound smug, as if saying “verse” were something to be proud of? Are they proud because they know about the r? At least they don’t pronounce it “viss.”

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We saw an article online titled “11 overused words you and your friends need to stop saying right now.” The first three on this list are not words so much as verbal tics: like (as in they were, like, an hour late), you know, and um. The rest of the list consists of familiar offenders, including dude, freakin’, and whatever.

We think the author should have added a twelfth entry, one that is right there in his title: need to. This pushy phrase turns mere wishes or opinions into decrees: I need you to open this door. You need to exercise more. He needs to read the Bill of Rights. They need to get it together or go home.

Those who use need to like this are speaking as authorities or moralists who know what is best for all concerned. When something needs to be done, there is no room or time for discussion—just do it or you’ll be sorry.

But examine the next sentence you come across with need to in it. In many cases a more honest—and civil—choice would be it seems advisable, maybe it’s a good idea, would you please, or anything else that’s not so strident and overbearing.

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While we’re at it, there is another phrase that deserves a comeuppance, as seen in these sentences culled from the internet: “He expounded on the concept of mercy.” “She expounded on the virtues of solar power.” “McGrady expounded on the dangers of high-octane fuel leaks.” The writers have misused expound—in all three sentences the correct phrase would be expand on, which means “to discuss at length or in detail.”

To expound is to explain or describe. And expound does not traditionally take the preposition on. Here are a few examples of expound used correctly: “She expounded her theory further in the course of her talk.” “He expounded his materialistic philosophy in a number of books.” “The Masters expounded their teachings in a series of propositions.”

Expound on is popular because it sounds more impressive than the pedestrian expand on … but impressive to whom?

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4 responses to “Nothing Poetic About This Verse

  1. Kevin C. says:

    I think the matter of saying “verse” instead of “versus” comes from video games, possibly from Japanese game producers not knowing what “vs.” actually stands for and thinking it is a verb. I’ve heard kids and young adults talk about “versing” someone in a game (e.g., “I versed him in Mortal Kombat”), so apparently somewhere along the line someone thought that “vs.” stood for “verses,” as if there were a verb “to verse” meaning “to play against.”

  2. Gretchen G. says:

    One of my pet peeves by news readers on TV: Jane Doe “speaks out” on her trip to the store. Not an earth shattering event in my book.

    I thought “speaking out” about a subject was to relay something controversial or mysterious, not just an explanation.

    Maybe other readers would like this explained also.

  3. Geri B. says:

    Thank you for your newsletters. I love them and get a kick out of them.
    One question: Why do people use the phrase “in order to?” I think that phrase should have been included in the overused words article below.

    • That is a point we’ve been thinking about. In many cases you could just replace the phrase with “to.” However, there are other times when the phrase is not extraneous, but necessary.

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