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Word of the Month: Verso and Recto

David Zapatka

Reader, friend, and fellow bridge player, Gayle Covey, writes, “As always, enjoyed your SaddleBrooke word column. I’ve been saying I’d send a word or two. Finally …

I’m an English major and a words person. How did I not know this? It just came up in Wordle (and I thought of you!) … verso. And … recto.”

Verso—noun ver·​so

The back or underside of a single sheet of paper, or the left-hand page of an open book is known as the verso.

1. The side of a leaf (as of a manuscript) that is to be read second. 2. A left-hand page of a book usually carrying an even number. 3. The back cover of a book, especially the outside back cover.

Recto—noun rec·​to

The front or face of a single sheet of paper, or the right-hand page of an open book is called the recto.

1. The side of a leaf (as of a manuscript) that is to be read first. 2. A right-hand page of a book usually carrying an odd number. 3. The front cover of a book, especially the outside front cover.

Origin and Etymology—verso, New Latin; the page being turned; recto, New Latin; recto (folio) on the right-hand leaf. The two opposite pages themselves are called folium rectum and folium versum in Latin.

The terms “recto” and “verso” are also used in the codicology of manuscripts written in right-to-left scripts, like Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew. However, as these scripts are written in the other direction to the scripts witnessed in European codices, the recto page is to the left while the verso is to the right. The reading order of each folio remains first verso, then recto, regardless of writing direction.

First Known Use—verso 1839; recto 1810

Verso and recto used in sentences:

The one Milo was bent over—folio 855 recto, with its design for a parabolic swing bridge—rested on the glass of an LED light box.—Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic, 7 July 2023

The unassuming, hour/minute recto side of the dial hides all the action on the verso (or chrono) side.—Justin Fenner, Robb Report, 3 Apr. 2023

On the recto, the Angel Gabriel seems to float down to Mary in the cloud-like oval and, on the verso, the risen Christ ascends from the same spot toward heaven.—Judith H. Dobrzynski, WSJ, 12 Mar. 2022

In one section, the prose is more clearly read by following recto pages separately from the verso.—R. O. Kwon, The New Yorker, 9 Nov. 2022

Thistlewood did not, however, divide his diaries into a recto and a verso side but used both sides of his diary notebooks to write daily entries in which philosophical reflections were mixed with his activities as a slave owner.—Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, 8 Oct. 2020

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