A reader wants to know more about the use of the word versus and its abbreviations:
I have seen “versus” spelled out and abbreviated as both “vs.” and “v.” Is there any rhyme or reason to this word?
The earliest citation of versus in the OED is in a legal context dated 1447: “John Husset versus John Notte.”
The word comes from the Latin verb vertere: “to turn, turn back, be turned, translate.” Versus is the past participle of vertare. Its meanings in English include “against” and “as opposed or compared to”:
The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans
Researchers examine autism differences in boys versus girls
Depending on context, versus may be spelled out or abbreviated. The abbreviated form vs. is pronounced “versus.”
The abbreviation for versus in the title of a case at law is the letter v followed by a period:
Brown v. Board of Education
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
This legal abbreviation is usually pronounced like the name of the letter: “vee,” but I’ve heard lawyer characters on Law and Order say “versus.”
Note: The title of a court case, like the title of a book, is italicized, including the v. In other contexts, the word versus and abbreviation vs. are not italicized. In British usage, the period after vs. is omitted.
Versus, vs. and vs, are often used in headlines:
Steelers hope breakout versus Colts only the start
Dogs versus cats: Take the quiz!
Minnesota launches deer vs. trees debate
Babies vs Pets in Viral Advertising
The Associated Press Stylebook recommends spelling out versus “in ordinary speech and writing” and abbreviating it as v. in court cases. According to AP, the abbreviation vs. is acceptable “in short expressions,” as in “The issue of guns vs. butter has long been with us.”