‘Revert’ does not mean ‘Reply’


I’ve seen three occurrences of this stupidity recently (all, as it happens, in communications to/from Irish solicitors), and it is really starting to vex me.  Particularly because the people involved should all know better.

Generally, the usage tends to be:

Please revert to me

which, while grammatically correct, only has meaning if the person you are writing to was, at some time in the past, you.

The verb “to revert” has various meanings, all of which can be loosely described as “to return to a former state”.  Thus far, I have failed to find any definition of the word “revert” which includes “reply” in the list of accepted meanings.

So please, lets put a stop to this idiocy.  If you mean “reply”, write “reply”.  Using the word “revert” incorrectly just sounds pompous and stupid.


Edit: Someone has since pointed out to me that this is probably a mis-interpretation of the legal meaning.  From Merriam-Webster above, we have:

to return to the proprietor or his or her heirs at the end of a reversion

which I suppose could be twisted somehow into meaning “to reply” (in that ownership of the email/letter would be transferred).  However, reversion is properly defined as:

REVERSION, estates. The residue of an estate left in the grantor, to commence in possession after the determination of some particular estate granted out by him; it is also defined to be the return of land to the grantor, and his heirs, after the grant is over. Co. Litt. 142, b.
2. The reversion arises by operation of law, and not by deed or will, and it is a vested interest or estate, and in this it differs from a remainder, which can never be limited unless by either deed or devise. 2 Bl. Comm. 175; Cruise, Dig. tit. 17; Plowd. 151; 4 Kent, Comm. 349; 19 Vin. Ab. 217; 4 Com. Dig. 27; 7 Com. Dig. 289: 1 Bro. Civil Law, 213 Wood’s Inst. 151 2 Lill. Ab. 483. A reversion is said to be an incorporeal hereditament. Vide 4 Kent, Com. 354. See, generally, 1 Hill. Ab. c. 52, p. 418; 2 Bouv. Inst. n. 1850, et seq.

which makes it quite clear that it is intended solely for property or estate, and that “reversion arises by operation of law, and not by deed or will“, i.e. the ‘reply’ button in an email just doesn’t cut it.


Edit (August 2009): Sadly, it appears that the idiocy of the reverters has prevailed. If wordia.com is to be believed, their (formerly incorrect) usage of the verb to revert has made its way into the Collins English Dictionary:

1. 1) verb, to go back to a former practice, condition, belief, etc
2. 2) verb, to take up again or come back to a former topic
3. 3) verb, biology (of individuals, organs, etc) to return to a more primitive, earlier, or simpler condition or type
4. 4) verb, to reply to someone
5. 5) verb, property law (of an estate or interest in land) to return to its former owner or his heirs when a grant, esp a grant for the lifetime of the grantee, comes to an end
6. 6) verb, revert to type to resume characteristics that were thought to have disappeared
7. 7) noun, a person who, having been converted, has returned to his former beliefs or Church

Although, strangely enough, this additional meaning does not appear in the ‘Collins Language’ website reference to revert, so it is quite possible that the reference is incorrect.

I should probably also note that there is no official standard of the English language, so the reverters are free to revert as often as they wish. And those to whom they write are also free to laugh at their idiotic pomposity.


Edit: Some harmless fun:
Revert Email buttons

  1. #1 by Bricky on March 23, 2011 - 10:56 pm

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06FOB-onlanguage-t.html

    Very interesting article about this, which pretty much restates the above

  2. #2 by Robert Lancaster on February 6, 2014 - 11:01 am

    At least the Oxford English Dictionary has not sunk to the depths of the “revert” lunacy!

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