06 June, 2015

The changing meaning of the verb 'to revert'

I do a lot of work for the publishing industry. My husband works in the IT industry. Between us, we have plenty of experience working with Indian colleagues. And the one thing that we both really notice is the phenomenon of Indian English,

There are certain phrases that are used regularly in Indian English but are not correct, at least traditionally, in British English. One of our favourites is the word 'revert'. In Indian English the phrase: 'Please revert to me' is commonplace. This is used to mean 'please refer to me', as in 'if you have any questions, please refer to me'. Or, in Indian English, 'if you have any questions, please revert to me'. Although we understand perfectly well what is meant by the phrase in Indian English, it is a non-starter in British English. In British English, 'please revert to me' would mean 'please turn back into me' -- which makes no sense at all!

What's interesting, though, is that this phrase now appears to be entering British English and, increasingly, is being used between speakers of British English. Only the other day, I received an email from a journalist saying '...I will revert to you or to Kate, depending on your instructions'.

The phrase 'to revert' in the sense of 'to refer' already appears in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, albeit under the category of Indian English. My guess is that it won't be long before it appears in other more pedestrian dictionaries of British English as well.

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