“And that hashtag is wrong. It should always be v not vs. The ‘v’ never stood for versus, it stood for ‘vel’, meaning ‘or’. As in, ‘The gladiator or the lion is coming out of that arena alive.’” #WIvsENG


“And ‘versus’ wasn’t even the way to say ‘against’, in that sense. That probably would’ve been ‘contra’. So it’s ‘v’ not ‘vs’ or ‘versus’. And yes, I still think Root should be at 3 with everyone else at 8.” #WIvsENG


Is there any truth in this (particularly in the "vel" bit)?

The few dictionaries that I consulted maintain "versus", but I'm still curious... (The Latin "vel" does or can mean "or", so there's that.)

  • 11
    Let me get this right. Some dweeb on Twitter says 'v' in "Spurs v Chelsea" means "vel"? And you want to know if it's true? Are you serious? – Michael Harvey Feb 11 at 20:35
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    @MichaelHarvey Yes. Quite serious. Also, it is actually some dweeb on Twitter quoting another dweeb (possibly not on Twitter). – Keep these mind Feb 11 at 20:36
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    Can you spell out what the question is? With an example? Do you have a sentence with v or vel? The links are great but you need to make the question also self contained. – Mitch Feb 11 at 20:51
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    In mathematical logic, it is common to write A ∨ B, meaning either A or B is true, and this is indeed derived from the Latin vel. But crucially, this is always meant as an inclusive or, so either A or B or both A and B are true. This clearly doesn't apply to the case of a fight between two parties, only one of whom can win. i.e. your source is retrospectively interpreting an established A ∨ B mathematical notation to cover something in an unrelated linguistic domain. – Michael MacAskill Feb 12 at 1:34

The etymology of "versus" is pretty simple. It came from Latin and it was originally used in English in the law sense (as it's still used today: Roe v. Wade). Later on it started to be used more flexibly.

There are several abbreviations that have been used for versus: v., vs., and ver. Both vs. and v. (with and without the period) are mentioned in Oxford Dictionaries as currently acceptable abbreviations.

The Oxford English Dictionary has this as its first citation for versus:

Also the jugement by twene Broghton and the Glasier and by twene John Husset versus John Notte and specially of Sr John Notte of his fyn.
John Shillingford's letters and papers (1447–8)

(The MED has the same quote as its first citation for versus.)

It's pretty easy, at least for me, to see the similarities between the legal sense and the general (or sports) sense.

I also looked up contra and vel in the OED. Contra has never been used in English in quite this way (i.e. placed between two people or things to indicate opposition). Vel doesn't even have an entry (although it is part of the expression vel non "or not"), meaning that it was never really used in English.

Lastly, according to the answers given to the Latin SE questions “Us versus them” - opposite of “noster”? and What's the difference between vel, aut, -ve, et cetera? it would be aut (not vel) that would be used in Latin between two opposing parties.

  • What does "twene" mean in your quote about "twene Broghton"? – Wilson Feb 12 at 10:54
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    "by twene" => between. – Vicky Feb 12 at 12:39

There is no truth in the "vel" bit. "Vel" isn't even the way to say "or" in that sense. The desired meaning is an exclusive "or", and that in Latin was "aut".

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    In mathematical logic, the most common symbol for the "inclusive or" operator is usually ∨, (e.g. A ∨ B), which according to this source comes from the Latin 'vel' meaning either/or: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_disjunction. But you're right, the outcome of a competition is usually better viewed as an exclusive or, which is not usually represented as a single operator but as a chain of operations, e.g. A ∨ B & ¬(A & B) (i.e. inclusive or is fundamental but exclusive or is derived). – Michael MacAskill Feb 12 at 1:26
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    @MichaelMacAskill While I don't disagree that OR is normally a fundamental in Boolean logic, if you treated & and ^ (exclusive OR) as fundamental, you can derive the inclusive OR from A∨B = (A^B) ^ (A&B). Or even treat and ^ as fundamental and derive A&B = (A∨B) ^ (A^B). – TripeHound Feb 12 at 16:06

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