Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Revert" - Who changed the meaning? - redux

I have spent most of my life in India. I have traveled to many places within India and enjoyed the diversity of our people. Yes! We have developed expertise in English and in some years can stake claim to the "native speaker" status. I do not disagree with all of this. But who the hell gives us the right to alter meanings of harmless words? Can we change the meaning of the word "mango" to make it mean "contract". From tomorrow I'll suddenly start saying - "India and Pakistan signed 4 mangoes to take the Kashmir peace initiatives to a new level". "Chappell just signed a mango with the BCCI and the players mangoes have been announced". Isn't this fun? Kister Monductor?

Imagine my surprise when, a couple of years before, a recruiter in India sent me a mail which went like "please send me your resume and I will revert back to you." So I looked up the dictionary to find out if they changed 'revert' to mean something else.

1. To return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.
2. Law. To return to the former owner or to the former owner's heirs. Used of money or property.
3. Genetics. To undergo reversion.

re·vert (r-vûrt)
v. re·vert·ed, re·vert·ing, re·verts

To return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.
To undergo genetic reversion.

Main Entry: re·vert
Pronunciation: ri-'v&rt
Function: intransitive verb
1 : to come or go back (as to a former status or state)
2 : to return to the grantor or his or her heirs as a reversion —re·vert·ible /-'v&r-t&-b&l/ adjective

v 1: go back to a previous state; "We reverted to the old rules" [syn: return, retrovert, regress, turn back] 2: undergo reversion, as in a mutation

The way I understood things were that there were two states.
State1: The state of a person/law/situation at time 0.
State2: The new state of the above mentioned entities at time 1.

Now at Time 2 - if your situation goes back to state 1 again - it means you have reverted. If human beings suddenly started giving birth to monkeys - we have reverted back to our previous evolutionary state. If you are an ugly ogre and then became a handsome prince. When you revert - you become an ugly ogre again. So you say to the other ugly ogres - "I was a handsome prince before but I reverted back to you". This is how the word revert is used.

So when I read the mail from the recruiter I thought - "Is she calling me a monkey or an ogre". I was thinking she hasn't even seen my resume and she already thinks low of me. In fact she thought I was some kind of a lower state and she had progressed to a newer better state. Now she suddenly feels she is going to revert back to - a older worse state - which is me. I have to say my confidence in her wasn't necessarily high at that point.

Turns out "revert" means "reply". This was like dawning moment, an awakening, an epiphany. So I understood that if a person says, "I will revert back to you". It means the person will reply back to me. Who would have guessed this? [ Answer: the person who would have guessed mangoes = contract.] It is like a waiter in Saravana Bhavan coming and asking you " Sir do you want conglomerate dosa". You gulp down some water. Slowly absorb the shock. Think for a while and figure out that now people are using "conglomerate" and masala interchangeably. If "interchangeable" and "goiyyaka" were also being used to indicate the same meaning, I have to say "people are using "conglomerate" and "masala" goiakkably". What else has been changed recently?

Does it look like I am protesting against such sacrilege on the English language? Wait.. lets hear some typical responses from our countrymen on this subject. It should go something like - "How dare anybody protest? Mera Bharat Mahan. We are patriotic Indians. We have more command over the English language than anybody else. Who stops us from making up our own meanings to words. This language is anyway not perfect. Why not add some Indian style imperfection to it. Jai Hind"

My biggest worry is - who the hell is making up all these new meanings? Who first started the trend of using "revert" and "reply" goiakkably? Is there a masala of these people somewhere out there who are making pickles (decisions) like this?

Anyway coming back to the mail-from-recruiter incident. A colleague in Dallas jokingly asked me the same question. I think he was struggling hard to control his laughter when he asked "Now is this usage of revert in such a context common in India". I thought - Thats cheating. I found this joke before him. He is not the only one to find this usage funny. I laughed hard at that recruiter too. I am from India and No! this is not common. Nobody taught this in school. You can roam anywhere in India and you will not find many people in the academic circles reverting back to each other like some gene mutation virus broke loose. In my 20 odd years in India I have never seen such a usage of revert. Never.

Suddenly the software generation and the computer people morphed the word to have new meanings. And it makes no sense. There is no mango signed with Thesauras to allow the usage of revert and reply goiakkably. Some pranksters are making dubious pickles out there which is putting a lot of other people to shame. Pee you. Good-Underwear


WA said...

Have been equally baffled when I came across revert in this context a while ago. As to the words getting morphed to mean something else, doesn't it happen elsewhere too? Can't think of an example immediately but I am almost certain a word meaning something in the UK could mean something else in the US or Australia.

tilotamma said...

Ha, ha.......

I think I have a fairly good vocabulary but could not understand what my friend was saying when she used this word.

She however was very, very confident using it and seemed to wonder how I ever got more than her in English.

Ah, all along it was a desi usage which I had never seen in any book .
That explains it.

Gundu Sudha from X D, I hope you are reading this wherever you are now!

anush said...

did you delete your previous post? That had some fundamental truths in it :)

123 said...

<<< "Anyway coming back to the mail-from-recruiter incident".... >>>

u used coming back to .here... right... in the same way .. i am under the impression that the recruiter used revert as "come back to " ... but she might have forgotten the word written in brackets against the meaning.

curious to know what goiyyaka means ????

Anonymous said...


but "revert to" does not mean "coming back" to. Man are u drunk or can u talk sense...

123 said...

anon ,

check the meaning of the word as
Function: intransitive verb
1 : to come or go back (as to a former status or state)

most people use a simple substituion of meanings without knowing the actual usage ... as it happens when we are learning a language from a different base langauge ..otherwise the common methodology that is pumped into our blood ( atleast 90 crores out of 100 crores leaving 10 crore geniuses like you ) is mugging up.

revert = to come or go back
... careless reading or mugging up of meanings for words can result in a druncken state of condition ... as u said...
ha ha ha ha...

i am just explaining the process.
i dont remember using this word in this sense anyways.

ur addressing me as "man" without knowing anything about me reminded me of an ad i saw yesterday on a billboard.

"Rights of Admission Reserved" ..... Only IT Guys are allowed.

whether GUY is a common term being used across to refer to all IT People or Girls Become GUYS once they enter IT Field ? LOL :-)
Ha Ha Ha .....

Clarify my doubt. I will give you more information in future as the AD unveils its purpose.

Hawkeye said...


"coming back to" means coming back to.

revert does not mean "coming back to".

I still dont get the point you are making. it looks like u r saying - if "coming back to" can be used revert can be used as an alternative to reply.

i dont think so.

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Yeah, had to accept that as part of standard English usage sometime back. We use 'get back to you' more frequently here. But I guess you have never heard people at Presidency College, Kolkata speaking English (or should I say, Benglish). Their vocab is kind-a interspersed with bengali words whenever things go a little out of the active English vocab ;)

But that was a funny reminder... yea

monk.and.monkey said...

Yeah... "revert back" is used to mean "get back" in these kind of contexts.

But i have no idea of what the other "original" meanings of "revert" are except the one which means "to change back".

VC said...

Based on the assumptions that this is not the first time usage of, and said recruiter is not the first user of 'revert' in this context, it is probably safe to conclude that first-time usage of 'revert' in this context was by some person with kind of an unofficial license to play around with the English language. This person probably had enough credibility for this usage to get propogated, in a multi-level-marketing fashion to reach said recruiter - reminds me a bit of the eating-Snickers-with-knife-and-fork episode from Seinfeld.
That said, here's my explanation - revert is probably used to convey a return to the original state, i.e. of you having to respond to the recruiter's reply and then you can revert back to the recruiter, until the back-and-forth-ing (if I may) is over.
Who knows, someday we may actually read about the signing of a new mango between the BCCI and the players (somewhere other than this blog, that is).

Megha said...

Ah! Always a source of much indignation and amusement! And I must add this - even if for a moment we accept that revert is being used in place of 'get back', the usage still shouldn't be 'revert back', yes? Translates to 'I will get back back to you'. Much like saying something is not adequately enough :)

Stopped by here for the first time. A pleasure to read your blog. Cheers!

Hawkeye said...

wicked angel,

truck vs lorry is an example i can think of..

if u know tamil sarkarai vs seeni is what i can think of..

the latter is more dangerous because sarkakrai is sugar in madras and male gentelia in nellai.

Hawkeye said...


u mean gundu sudha was using revert and reply interchangeably when u were in X std. how long has this thing been around.

Hawkeye said...


i wrote it in a fit of anger. and then thought.. what the hell.. people wont get the point and i will just be seen as narrow minded..

Hawkeye said...


i think english will have its own variant in every state in india.. bengalish tanglish, hinglish

Hawkeye said...


agree wiith u. there is just 1 meaning to 'revert' which is to change back to an older state.. that is the original meaning (AFAIK).

Hawkeye said...


was thinking of the same seinfeld eating choclates with fork when i wrote this.

some day you will be signing mangoes instead of contracts...


welcome..i have visited meghalomania before.. quite enjoyed your writings..

isnt there another word whose usage mirrors this back back kinda of replication.. let me think about it.

Srikanth said...

Americans do this as well (not the "revert" thing, but confuse words). I have seen even respected authors use "alternate" with the meaning of "alternative."

Anonymous said...

Bharath...In India, I think most ppl have the habit of making any work-related stuff sound very formal. It was true even when I was growing up there. I think one of the reasons people use words like "revert" in emails these days is to make their emails sound "official" and formal rather personal. I think a lot of ppl think that "getting back to " is a very colloquial way of speech and think that should not be used in work emails. But, in U.S. as we all know we have more of a informal communication.I've seen many other rarely used (spoken) words crop up in emails a lot especially by folks in India. One guy wrote an email that said "I await for ..... from you" instead of simply saying "I'm waiting for ..... from you". Another guy wrote "I'm communicating...." instead of just writing "I'm saying...". My $0.02.

Born a Libran said...

Hilarious stuff as usual... Good to see you are back to form..

rads said...

Ive heard that too, and it does sound odd. How does 'circle' back to you sound? :-))
That's a heavy usage - again in IT, again, among desis in US!

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Err... wasn't this a very old post? How did it come on top?? :O :-\

Music of Nature said...

"Assault" is another word that I have heard of being used in a completely different sense in India (not sure of this. May be Tamilnadu). Have you guyz come across this ? They use this word in the sense " Being cool when you are supposed to be tense or guilty". When I was a kid, I believed that to be the actual meaning of that word ! Poor me !

I said...

'I hope (think) you are sick' is another common example.

Hawkeye said...

music of nature,

the 'assault' english word and 'asalte' tamil word are completely different. dont confuse them.

only pronunciation is different. people know the difference and haven't incorrectly assumed assault to mean 'nonchalance'

i used to always correct my aunts daughter on this. i use assault and asalte. never interchangably. the latter is tamil slang

Anonymous said...

B/B please call me when you get a chance. Am gonna be in Ann Arbor for Labor Day.


Sachita(india) said...

y da old post?

Einsteinophile said...

Have experienced this 'reverting back' quite a lot.
The worst will be 'Please revert back to me in case of any clarifications'... I mean, the statement is absurd.

WA said...

Can you please not recycle your posts, please please. Reading my comments months later is no fun :(

Anonymous said...

Why did you suddenly revert back to this post???

Anonymous said...

i will momentarily revert to your post.

- s.b.

Marc said...

I also have been confounded by the use of "revert", funnily enough mainly by recruiters also, but here in South Africa. One of our clients, in Nigeria, also uses this a lot, so I guess it is spreading. I found this discussion after googling the hateful phrase.

Then a few weeks later, I learnt a new common Indian "Engrish" from my Nigerian, "I will INTIMATE you further details". Does the butchering ever stop?

biggus said...

I also like being asked to "Please do the needful". That is really funny :-)
I also see revert quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

I know it's been a while seen this blog post was made but I'm glad I found it. I too find myself wondering if the word had alternate meanings.

Just want to let everyone know that this usage seems to be quite common in Hong Kong (where the standard of English should be higher, but it's not).

"Appreciate if you can revert later this afternoon."

"Please revert if you have any issue."

I have a feeling many people are using "revert", when they want to mean "get back to" or "reply", because "revert" seems to be an ever-so-slightly exotic word. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Ayyo Dude geta lifeh...
small worddd bigggggggg blog

my random thought
t20 mein sab chalta hai. who says emails shud be test cricket?

vipi said...

i also had faced similar incident when ma visa officer said 'she would revert back to ma agent to say abt the progress'.I searched the web and found that it has a meaning to go to the previous condition ...i was shocked...but when i asked an english professor abt it, he told not worry abt it and told that was a meaning just to "come back"............ohhhhhhh what a differenceeeeeeeeee

zuctronic said...

Brilliant commentary! I've come across this inappropriate / incorrect use of the word "revert" multiple times in the past week and so I googled "revert back to me" and found this page. I was also wondering how I could "revert back" to these guys at Sun support, since I had never been them to begin with.

- Andy

Achilles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Achilles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Achilles said...


You have been blasting Indians for altering the meanings of words and being poor at English grammar. I am neither Wren nor Martin and you may find lots of errors in this post. But let me have the pleasure of pointing out yours.

You have used "revert back" which is wrong (strictly speaking) and you have also used "reply back". The last one is a blunder and I think you should set your house in order before passing landmark judgements on Indians and their use (or abuse as you point out) of the English language.

As far as speaking or writing like natives is concerned, I have no doubt in my mind that we have surpassed the "original natives" in this aspect quite a while ago. And we do not wish to "revert" to their standard.


Hawkeye said...


are you some kind of a comedian?

Achilles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Achilles said...


Is that a compliment? Sorry, I got carried away. I "didn't mean no offense".


Kevin Cannon said...

This is a pet hate of mine too. It's spread to Ireland now but it mostly used in emails and with people who used other business catch phrases like "going forward", "touch base" and "synergies.

I distinctly remember the first time I encountered it. I was working a web development company and a colleague received an email with the following line:

"Great. Can you make that change and then revert"

We were very confused.

alphabetworld said...

First time here...and had a good time.

As for "revert"...well, that's the new-age synonym for "reply", "respond", "get back", et al.

As for your query "isn't there another word whose usage mirrors this 'back back' kinda of replication", we all do it all the time by saying things like "i'll return back tomorrow"; "i'll reply back later"...

somaie said...

. Experts have talked about this before. How many times have you read about the importance of ‘adding value’ for your audience? How many times have you read about ‘building trust’ with your readers/prospects?
Many, many times. You know it well. Every marketing guru has spoken about this topic. I’m sick of hearing it. But it STILL bears repeating.

aditi said...

A very late response but since we're on the subject,has the pronunciation of restaurant changed??I hear people say resto.I always thought it was pronounced the way it is spelt.the t in the end is to be pronounced right?

Anonymous said...

It is now 2013 and I get recruiters from India and the US (but originally from India) saying "revert" when they mean "reply".

I will not reply (or revert) to these people. If they can not understand enough of my language and culture to know that in the US reply does not equal revert, I know they will not be able to negotiate on my behalf with employers.

So, I sometimes tell them why I ignore their query...but generally, I just delete the email and block them as SPAM forever.