Still More Words That Turn on the Root “Vert”

By Mark Nichol

Two recent posts (here and here) dealt with many of the English words based on the Latin verb vertere, meaning “turn,” focusing on those based on the root vert. This follow-up post defines some additional words in the vertere family: those with the root vers.

Versus (abbreviated vs. or, in legal contexts, v.) comes directly from the Latin adverb meaning “so as to face” and means “against” or “in contrast to.” As a Latin noun, versus meant “furrow” or “row,” alluding to how a plow was turned at the end of each row, and later acquired the sense of a line and a line of writing, hence verse. That word pertains to a line of metrical writing, a poem in particular or poetry in general, a stanza (one of two or more sections of a poem) or a similar segment of a song, or a brief division of the Bible.

Interestingly, an antonym of verse in the sense of “poetry,” prose, which refers to more loosely structured forms of writing that resemble speech—and to ordinary written and spoken language or, pejoratively, something dull or ordinary (described with the adjective prosaic and the adverb prosaically)—is a contraction of proversus, meaning “turned forward.” Prose itself functions also as an adjective (as in “prose poem,” referring to a hybrid form of writing) and as a verb.

Verso (“the page being turned”) means “left-hand page” or “reverse side of a page.” (The opposite term is recto.) “Vice versa,” taken directly from Latin, means “with the order turned.” Versatile (from versatilis, meaning “able to or capable of turning” or “operated by turning”) usually describes being able to turn from one thing to another, such as two distinct skills, or having variability or various applications; such a quality is called versatility. In biology, it describes free movement of an appendage or segment of an animal or plant.

Version, borrowed directly from the medieval Latin verb meaning “act of turning,” refers to a variation of a description of something or a type of something, and in medicine pertains to an organ of the body turned from its normal position or to the turning of a fetus during childbirth to facilitate delivery.

Anniversary literally means “year turning” and describes a recurrence of a date, whether annual or on some other scale, or refers to a celebration of such a date. Adverse, which literally means “turn against,” refers to an action or attitude that is harmful, hostile, or unfavorable; an adversary is an enemy or opponent.

Malversation, literally “bad turn,” pertains to corruption or a corrupt government administration.

Obverse (literally, “turned toward”) means “facing” or “opposite” but also describes something wider at the top than at the base. Transverse means “placed across” or pertains to something so positioned, while traverse means “travel across or over,” “move or pass along or through,” “examine,” or “survey”; in legal contexts, it means “deny” or “oppose.” As a noun, it describes a course or crossing or other movement, or an obstacle or something that crosses.

Universe, from universus, meaning “whole,” describes, in contexts ranging from astronomy to philosophy, the entirety of existence or experience, or something similarly comprehensive or of great quantity; the adjectival form is universal, and the noun describing the quality or state of comprehensiveness is universality. The related term university, derived from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium (essentially, “community of teachers and scholars”), refers to an institution of higher learning, often composed of several colleges, schools, or other divisions.

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2 Responses to “Still More Words That Turn on the Root “Vert””

  • Dale A. Wood

    “That word pertains to … or a brief division of the Bible.”
    It is noteworthy that the Old Testament was written without any verse numbers, etc., but those were added by translators much later on.
    On the other hand, the New Testament seems to have been written with numbered verses, but that is not completely certain.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A difference between British English and North American English: British writers seem to have “fallen in love” with the word “variant”, which sounds quite stuffy to me, whereas we use “version”. They also seem to have the attitude of “Why use a two-syllable word when we can use three?”
    They use “ensuing” when “next” would do, and “prior to” when “before” would do. Also, “prior” is Latinate, but “before” is strictly Germanic. {spelled “bevor” in Modern German}

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