A listener named Alan wrote, “When using the word versus, does it make a difference as to what is placed before and what is placed after? For example: Roe versus Wade or Red Sox versus Yankees. In other words, by rule is one the challenger, and the other the challenged?”
Plaintiff v. Defendant
Well, Alan, the court case part is easy. The standard format is Plaintiff v. Defendant.
The plaintiff is the person or entity who is doing the suing, the one who makes the complaint, the one who brings the lawsuit. The defendant is the person or entity that is being sued.
Often, for lawsuits, versus is abbreviated as a lowercase V followed by a period. That’s AP style, so in Alan’s example Roe is the plaintiff, Wade is the defendant, and it’s written as Roe v. Wade.
Away Team vs. Home Team
When you get to sports, it’s more complicated because it varies by country. In the United States, the home team is usually written second (i.e., Away vs. Home). So if the Chicago Bulls are playing the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, you’d see the game described as Bulls vs. Lakers because the Lakers are the home team. Again, that’s in the US, and the Associated Press says that in this case it’s OK to abbreviate versus as vs.
Home Team vs. Away Team
However, in many other countries, it’s the opposite: the home team is listed first, and even the Associated Press tells its writers that if they are writing for the international wire, put the home team first and the away team second.
So that’s you quick and dirty tip: In court cases, it’s Plaintiff v. Defendant; and for sports, in the US, it’s Away Team vs. Home Team, but in many other countries, it’s Home Team vs. Away Team.
Thanks to Alan for the interesting question.