What is a 'Verse?

Jessica Ellis

A 'verse is a popular slang word for universe, usually in relation to a television show. The term gained popularity through the works of Joss Whedon, the notable creator of TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. The designation of a TV show world as a ‘verse connotes that it is a separate entity from the real world, with sufficient rules and conventions of its own.

'Verse' is a slang word used for universe, commonly used in relation to television shows like Star Trek.
'Verse' is a slang word used for universe, commonly used in relation to television shows like Star Trek.

Among Joss Whedon fans, the term originally applied to the alternate world of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off series, Angel. These successful shows shared common requirements of existence that do not conform to reality, and also shared a considerable amount of mythology and characters. In the world of the shows, it is accepted that vampires and demons are real and constant threats, that groups of people exist to fight against them, and that magic is a real practice. The compendium of mythology and history between the two shows and their later comic book extensions is unusually deep for a television show, thus leading to the term Buffyverse, which references the entire universe as laid out according to the rules of the show.

Dr. Who is a popular 'verse originating from Great Britain.
Dr. Who is a popular 'verse originating from Great Britain.

In Firefly, Whedon’s short-lived space-western, the characters themselves refer to their universe as the ‘verse. In this definition of existence, set several hundred years in the future, the universe is a collection of many planets created and cultivated by humans after the population grew too large for Earth. The culture that exists in the Firefly universe is part pioneer, part world village, and slang terms such as ‘verse are frequently used as abbreviations or contractions. The use of the term by actual Whedon characters has spawned a chicken-or-egg debate among fans, unsure if Whedon used it because the fans did or vice versa.

A ‘verse is not usually used for any world of a TV show. Shows that are meant to take place in the real world, such as medical or cop shows, do not truly qualify for the designation. To be considered a ‘verse, the world of the show must operate by a set standard of rules that do not conform to those of the real world.

The term also implies considerable depth to these rules of existence, and is used primarily for shows that spend time on exposition of the world or worlds the characters inhabit. For example, a soap opera world ignores reality as is convenient, but never truly explains what existential laws allow a dead identical twin can come back to life. In a ‘verse show, the rules of existence are discussed and are part of the fabric of the show, rather than ignored for ease of plot movement.

While the term still applies mostly to the work of Joss Whedon, it has expanded to include other non-real world shows, such as the Star Trek series. It is a mark of respect from the fans to consider a TV show’s world as a ‘verse. Since its inception for description of the Buffyverse, the term has become widespread among TV fans and entered common English slang.

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