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Where does 'verse originate?
June 16, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Where does the elision of universe to 'verse originate? I know it from the television show Firefly (aired late 2002) and recently noticed it used casually in The Chronicles of Riddick (released mid-2004), but it seemed unlikely that the screenwriter would appropriate a bit of slang connected to someone else's failed project from barely a year earlier. It seems to me I have heard it again since, but I cannot recall where. I read very little sf these days; did both these I mention draw it from elsewhere?
posted by ricochet biscuit to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
 
I think characterizing Firefly as "someone else's failed project from barely a year earlier" given how it was received by sci-fi fans at the time is seriously oversimplifying. It might come from elsewhere, but I can totally believe that anybody into this sort of thing at the time was borrowing stuff from Firefly.
posted by Sequence at 10:25 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]


The term as a suffix, to denote a fictional world, goes back quite a ways into the 20th Century (TVTropes credits an Orson Scott Card book jacket), but Firefly may well have been the first time it was incorporated into the narrative. I'm pretty sure Joss Whedon adopted it from Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom, which used the term "Buffyverse" a lot.
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:28 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I heard it first as "Buffyverse", yeah. Oddly there are situations where you'd expect to hear it, like the "Marvel Universe", but it's typically not written as "Marvelverse". (Okay, that sounds pretty mumbly, maybe that's why.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:41 AM on June 16


I too think of it as a convention of fandom-speak (Buffyverse, Whedonverse, Gateverse, etc) that made its way into the text, not the reverse.
posted by oh yeah! at 10:45 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Oh, and to Kadin2048's point, for Marvel the abbreviation is MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
posted by oh yeah! at 11:04 AM on June 16


The term as a suffix, to denote a fictional world, goes back quite a ways into the 20th Century (TVTropes credits an Orson Scott Card book jacket), but Firefly may well have been the first time it was incorporated into the narrative. I'm pretty sure Joss Whedon adopted it from Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom, which used the term "Buffyverse" a lot.

Of course, but I am asking about it as a standalone term.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:24 AM on June 16


The word "multiverse" was used as early as 1895. This wasn't referring to quantum mechanics, but it was in reference to the plasticity of nature.

Obviously that still isn't verse as a separate word, but it does indicate that the morpheme has carried that meaning for a long-ass time. I'd be a little surprised if Joss Whedon were the first to come up with this abbreviation, just because so many sci fi authors go nuts inventing slang to try to give their implausible settings a "lived-in" feel.
posted by aubilenon at 11:26 AM on June 16


I'll Nth that it's a thing that was sort of floating around the zeitgeist at the time. Probably from universe to multiverse to [fandom]verse to just 'verse.

I'd definitely point to the Joss Whedon fandom/Joss Whedon output as probably the place where it crossed from internet slang to something used within a literary work itself. For example the use of the term "Scooby Gang" to refer to Buffy & company started within the Buffy fandom and was later used onscreen by Whedon himself.

As to why The Chronicles Of Riddick might have used it, it's very likely that the writer of that film had seen Firefly, possibly even as script revisions were being done. People don't stop and think, "Hey, is this useful slang term from a successful literary work, or an obscure one? Hmmmm, maybe this movie would make more money if I added some midichlorians or reversing the polarity..."

If anything, the fact that Firefly was sort of obscure at the time made it probably more likely for others to borrow from it, since it would be unlikely that the aesthetic elements would immediately jump out as being associated with that thing. I mean, you couldn't put 'droids into just any SFF work, because that expression is too associated with Star Wars, and everyone knows Star Wars.

(Also I hereby suggest 'droids as a forerunner for 'verse.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I know it from the television show Firefly (aired late 2002) and recently noticed it used casually in The Chronicles of Riddick (released mid-2004), but it seemed unlikely that the screenwriter would appropriate a bit of slang connected to someone else's failed project from barely a year earlier.

The popularity of Firefly doesn't necessarily mean that it would have been discarded as an inspiration, especially since what happened to Firefly was definitely influenced by outside interference. It's possible that Whedon and Twohy are personal and/or professional acquaintances, were at a lunch or something, Twohy likes it and asks for Whedon's blessing, and he's like "sure, why not." Or maybe Twohy just saw it and thought it was cool, not copyrighted, and did his thing.

Of course, but I am asking about it as a standalone term.

Not having heard of it before then, I'd still say Firefly is the best bet, although it may have shown up in some less well-known work. It may have shown up in some of the slang from the Planescape work for AD&D 2E, now that I think about it, but that seems way more niche than network TV or a Hollywood blockbuster.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:18 PM on June 16


> The term as a suffix, to denote a fictional world, goes back quite a ways into the 20th Century (TVTropes credits an Orson Scott Card book jacket)

Nope, goes back well before that; "marvelverse" was used in 1985, "Trek-verse" in 1990, "Gaimanverse" in 1995, and "Xenaverse" in 1997. It would be interesting to know when the suffix was first hived off and used on its own, but it certainly wasn't a drastic step, and probably was taken by someone before Whedon. (Needless to say, it's hard to search for...)
posted by languagehat at 12:59 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Just reporting a negative. The folks of the Oxford English Dictionary have yet to document verse as a fore-clipped form of universe

Since it's come up, though, the OED lists the first recorded use of -verse as a combined form in 1981. The word was docuverse.

The first recorded use of -verse in relation to a fictional world was in 1985 in reference to the Dr. Whoniverse.
posted by Boxenmacher at 2:58 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Shakespeare shortens "universal" to "versal" in Romeo and Juliet II.iv, 1592:
Nurse: [...] I anger her sometimes and tell her that Paris is the properer man; but, I'll warrant you, when I say so, she looks as pale as any clout in the versal world.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:59 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


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