The constant abuse of “revert”

The constant abuse of “revert”

Priyank Sharma Grammar 124 Comments

I have recently noticed the word “revert” being used instead of the word “reply” or “get back” in day-to-day business communications by almost everyone here in India. However, that is a grammatically incorrect usage of the word. Probably, someone stupid enough thought that it’s more professional to use the word “revert” instead of “reply”. Even top-level CEOs in esteemed organizations are seen misusing the word, which is sad, really. They say (and even write): “I’ll revert to you with more details”. These starched-shirt types have been brought up to avoid using the word “get”, so cannot bring themselves to utter “I’ll get back to you with more details”.

The correct meaning of the word “revert” is essentially to return to a former habit, practice, belief, condition, etc. Generally, this is used in the software world to represent application roll-back to a previous version: “Due to critical bugs in version 1.2, they reverted the software to version 1.1.

Some more examples:<br />
“A witch turned the princess to a frog. But, when the prince kissed the frog, it reverted to the princess form.”<br />
“When the sun rises, the werewolf reverts to its human form.”

Get the idea?

Since “revert” means “roll back”, “revert back” is also incorrect. “I will revert to you later” is grammatically correct, but the meaning is not what you think. The meaning is “Sometime later I will become you or change back to you. Also implies that sometime back I was you”. Stupid, right?

Revert to me with the details” literally means I’m asking you to carry those details and become me. That definitely sounds dumb.

Let’s spread the word and save the word from abuse.


About the Author

Priyank Sharma

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Trancer by passion. Designer by profession.

Comments 124

  1. Priyank, I hope this small but meaningful information of yours’ click the heads and bite the tongues of million. Very few knows the real meaning of the word ‘revert’ and thanks to you for correcting me long time back. You are right even the top management makes the mistake with the usage of this word in mails and while speaking. Hence it is high time correct the wrong usage of English Usage as it is rightly said – “English is not only to speak, every word counts in its usage”.

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      1. Hi Priyank,

        Really, very nice and informative. As Bunty mentioned, it is really true and the word is being abused left, right and center. However, I think and hope that the so called users would open their knowledge eye and ensure that the right and apt words are used henceforth.

        Good one buddy …

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    2. Language does not suddenly come into existence, it evolves. The phrase: “The constant abuse of ‘Revert'”, by its very definition, means that it has entered our language in common use and is, therefore, correct.

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        Ross, language does evolve. But you cannot keep adopting misinterpretations. Another classic example from my part of the world would be, “I just could not except his answer.” Now due to common usage of the word “except”, would you adopt it?

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        1. Ross makes a great point! English has especially evolved and assumed a mercurial dynamic nature in each country that has adopted it from England . American English especially has bent many rules and changed many a pronunciations. I wonder if you deem all of them STUPID too! The issue here is not about how we have twisted the language to serve our purpose but how sad it is to see an Indian so quick to ridicule his own nation and its so called stupidity in the name of being pedantic!!!

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            Priya, this article is about grammar – it’s usage in a region (which applies to the entire South East Asia). It’s actually very low of you to twist this so conveniently into “Indian ridiculing India”. Sorry, but you have no place in this discussion.

          2. I think it’s more a matter of comprehension. Being a native English speaker myself, if someone tells me to revert to them, I don’t know what that means. In fact, I was about to reply to an email and tell the person that I don’t know how to revert something but decided to look online first.

          3. Where does he mocks the nation?Or for that matter what it has to do with ridiculing a nation?. Just because a language evolves does not mean it should change it’s basic usage. Whatever Priyank has mentioned is absolutely true. USA, UK, Canada, and Australia are English speaking nations and they have their own “English” where they have their own slang and usage. They are the native speakers. India is not an ethnically English speaking country. There is no such thing known as “Indian English” similarly as “American Hindi” or “Canadian Hindi”. You have got to learn the language the way it is, no half measures and whatever is mentioned about “revert” is categorically true. You can’t use the language incorrectly just because you think it “evolves.”

      2. A stupid mistake, made by millions, remains a stupid mistake. It should not be encouraged, supported or endorsed. Ignorance should be eradicated, not encouraged.

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    3. Right use of revert is what i just want to write” kindly fill the same and revert to us” . Is it right or wrong what should i use

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  2. “Revert” is becoming common in my inbox here in America as well. I’ve seen at least five times in the past month. It irked me so much I did a search and found your post. It feels good to know I am not alone.

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  3. I totally agree. Even I reverted many a times in the flow. But a bug thanks to you, I will never revert !! 😀

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  4. Good job Priyank! Sadly when you get all ‘wrong’ around you, it just starts to feel ‘right’! And that’s what’s happenin ..

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  5. Damn I can’t stand the usage of this word for mail ever since I read this post and found out the true meaning. And I happen to come across it atleast once everyday 😛

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  6. True. I expereince this a lot with my Indian fellow workers and hate to see it. “revert” instead of “reply”? It seems they are still very proud thinking that they used highfalutin words where in fact, it’s totally unacceptable in standrad English language.

    Another is using the word “could” instead of “can” and there are still a lot more of wrong usage by Indians. I am not English-born but at least I am aware of simple wrong usage.

    I know that India was under a British colony based on the history but British people for sure did not teach them such kind of English. Indian government should revisit this issue and see to it that teachers

    Are the English teachers in India not qualified to teach English language?

  7. I’m an Australian copywriter and have clients in Malaysia, Singapore and India. They ALL say they will revert to me later. When they do revert to me, I hope all my new clones have the courage to tell them that their English sucks.

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    2. Ha ha Tilda, I loved that response! I’ll have to keep that one in mind when I next see this misuse. I am glad to see fellow grammarians recognize this scourge and its spread around the globe.

      To correct others’ misinterpretations: it is _not_ a usage which is ‘acceptable’ because so many people are using it that way – it’s plain _wrong_ and betrays a degree of laziness and blind conformity on behalf of the user (if, indeed, they actually know it’s wrong, otherwise, tack-on ignorance to that list of traits). The English language isn’t ‘mercurial’ (another misused word), the last time it _was_, Shakespeare’s works had increased the English vocabulary by roughly 27’000 words – but that was a long time ago. There’s no need to corrupt a word’s meaning when there are others which are perfectly suited.

      Another one to look out for is “indeed” peppered incoherently in a person’s correspondence and/or speech.

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  8. The corporate world is so used to using the word ‘revert’ that it has spread from people’s minds to email inbox, we cannot avoid it and it has to bump into our eyes atleast once a day. I too have committed this crime. ‘When can you revert?’ ‘Expect the revert by tomorrow.’ ‘Can you revert by Friday?’ – this is a real case of bastardization of a word.

    Hope this article is widely read.

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  9. I’ve been correcting everyone around me but people just love to revert/revert back to somebody :-/
    Your post it very crisp on it and I’m sharing this on FB.

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  10. It is ironical that you used “Since “revert” means “return back”” in this post….
    return my things!!
    return back my things!!
    no need of “back” with “return” 🙂

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  11. Why should the world adopt something just because a significant number of people made mistakes?

    doesn’t make sense.

    you mean if a significant number of people go around raping people, we should legalise rape?

    weird logic.

    Revert should NEVER be used in place of the word REPLY. screw those who want oxford to update their definitions.

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  12. I was searching for the use of REVERT in conversations which just sounds wrong (I am a British) but living in India and I have had several Indian ‘professionals’ use it. I really don’t understand why it is seemingly becoming so common. We need to educate the masses! 🙂

    Thanks for your interesting blog, which looks amazing by the way.

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  13. I’m a French guy who has been living in England for the last 16 years. I work in IT and had never read that expression up until 2 weeks ago, Now I keep getting emails from people using “I’ll revert”, “I’ll revert back” and “I’ll revert back to you”, mostly from India and Africa. Please stop this nonsense craze.

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  14. okay, so initially i do know the meaning of ‘revert’, but after a period of time, people keep writing that in the email.
    so, i concluded that it is the other meaning of the word. now i sound foolish =P well, better know now than never. Thank you for this great article!

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  15. My company is greek but all written communication is in English, since we have many international employees. While my Romanian colleagues (and a few Greeks as well) tend to abuse “revert” on a daily basis, it is becoming an inside joke on the development floor :). If our services are down, one can hear people shouting “check and revert, CHECK AND REVERT”

    +1

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  16. I agree with the premise as a feature of correctness in language. However, this topic needs some reflection on the etymological origins, together with archaic use of such words, like, “revert.” This word, unlike the Brits in this forum assert, has been commonly used in the British legal world, and the meaning implied has indeed been, “reply.” In this context, the British legal system is using the archaic meaning of the word to imply, “to give ones attention back to something.” In the old-fashioned British world (that introduced English to the Indian Subcontinent), use of this word with the associated archaic meaning was also common in formal/business communication (oxforddictionaries.com/definition/revert?view=uk). Furthermore, the business world of Canada patronizes this word in its archaic form even today.

    Just to add context to the use of such words in their archaic form: the phrase, “the same” continues to be used in its archaic form in India and its neighboring countries. For example, many people continue to write, “Could you read my email and respond to the same?” Here again, British English in its old-fashioned days used this phrase a lot as a pronoun. The well-versed community in this forum, of course, know that in the preceding sentence, one can simply use, “it” instead of “the same.”

    In the Washington, DC Metro area, there is a higher concentration of American Blacks, and it boasts the presence of Howard University (referred to as Harvard for Blacks). I have met several Black students, staff and faculty from this institution. They use many English words that do not mean the same in English dictionaries from any English speaking society. Here is an example of the one such word (in plural), “deuces,” which means “a thing representing or represented by the number two (2).” In this region, and particularly among American Black youth, if you use this word with two fingers (index and middle) held up (sluggishly akin victory), it means, “peace, I’m outta here…”

    All I am saying is that, the use of correctness in language is beautiful. It is also though very similar to being, human…in that, what makes us most productive, agile and nimble is being able to change. Similarly, the value of expressions and words is in context to its users. If you do not agree with me, take a shot at telling the Black American kid, the correct meaning of the word, “deuces!”

    Cheers, all.

    1. Thank you ! Thank you ! Thank you !
      Priyank I believe you have another article to wrote calling on the stupidity of the use of the word deuces! I dare you on this one .

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      @ AnonymousIntellect: You make a great point there. However, “deuces” expressing “peace, I’m outta here…” is a slang usage. You cannot propose that as a comparison to “revert” being used as “getting back to you”.

  17. I’m glad you posted this. I receive email from our colleagues in India asking me to “revert at the earliest” and I didn’t know what they meant. Thanks for clearing it up.

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  18. I need assistant on stating email, addressing a set of People to revert the mail with required details at the earliest.

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  19. Priyank,

    Before you criticize the writing of others, I suggest you work on your own. I’d like to point out a few things. First, the improper use of the word revert is a syntactical issue, not grammatical. Second, your own grammar is sub-par and needs vast improvement. And finally, “revert” is gaining recognition to mean “to reply” in Indian English, specifically. So much so that Oxford is including it as an alternate definition in the next edition of their dictionary.

    However, believe me, it is just as irritating to me as it is to you. I’m very curious as to the origins of this use of “revert” as knowing such might explain why it’s used this way in the first place. After learning the origins, then one may render judgement as to how “stupid” it is.

    Regards,
    Keon

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    2. Syntax is a subset of grammar, you pedant.

      This article was highly amusing to me because I have seen “revert” abused so much by colleagues in India.

  20. I have started using this word because I keep seeing it used by all the mails I receive from my Indian Clients.
    But then it is thought to be more sophisticated to use revert in place of “get back” or “reply”.
    Now every time I’ll see this word I’ll remember this article for sure.
    Thanks for the information.

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  21. Someone just sent me this link. Over months, the discussion seems to have graduated from being educative to interactive and finally to abusive! Absolutely hilarious!

    Thank you Priyank. There are many words which have found place in the Oxford Dictionary. Perhaps, that is globalisation of language! The other very common mutilation of a set of words, is ‘please find attached’! A simple “please read the attached document…” or ” ..the attached document explains….” or similar would do. Not to forget ‘the meeting has been pre-poned’! Instead, ‘the meeting date/time has been rescheduled….’ would be simpler and correct.

    English language has gone through many ‘inclusions’ (I would not like to term it as ‘evolved’) more so with the new ‘digital’ language. Some of the expressions of endearment are “sick” or even “bitch”! These are quoted in the news papers, at present times!

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  22. While this non-standard usage is an understandable peeve, it’s a cold hard fact that language constantly evolves! And this particular usage of the word ‘revert’ to mean ‘reply’ has now been deemed common enough to be included in the OED, as can be found here (http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/revert?q=revert), a fact that seems pertinent enough to this post to be included.

    A basic dictionary check to verify that evolutions in language haven’t happened, seems like a thing to do, before setting up pages berating people leading that evolution. 😉

    You might also find the descriptivist perspective of this NYT article on the modern usage of revert interesting (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06FOB-onlanguage-t.html)

    1. I’d also love to bring the attention of folks to some other words that used to mean something completely different to what they mean now. And the way this evolution happens, is exactly what we’re observing in action with words like ‘revert’ and ‘nonplussed’ today.

      “Fantastic” used to mean “Imaginary” once upon a time. “Backlog” meant… “the big log at the back of the fire”. “Angel” used to simply denote “any messenger/hireling”. Those are still not so bad, but then we have words which changed their meanings to be exactly opposite of what they used to mean. “Artificial” was a positive term meaning “artfully and skillfully made”, “Brave” meant “gaudy”, and a “bully” was a “good person/a darling”!

      If we stuck to what words “used to mean” “properly” all the languages we speak today would be very very different, indeed.

      1. The problem I have is you don’t see this use of the word ‘revert’ in native English speaking countries, at least that I’m aware of. Your particular dialect of English may evolve this way but people in my country still won’t know what you’re saying.

        There are other terms I have been introduced to by our Indian co-workers as well. We can figure out the meaning through context but nobody around here ever uses them.

        1. That is exactly my point, Chris! We are not aware of the basic/original/source. Not many wants to find out, either. That is perhaps the reason, in India, we valued ‘Gurukul’ or the ‘Shantiniketan’ of bygone days! People learned then and modified which connected to the root. Now, we read, hear and adopt! I treasure the Webster Dictionary that belonged to my grandfather – it dates back to 1920! Change is welcome but a little challenging when it is completely uprooted and we are not able to identify its origination. How do we then measure ‘progress’ or ‘advantage’?

        2. You know we do have actual words that native language speakers didn’t know the meaning of at one time? They are called “Loanwords”(which is interestingly enough, derived from the German “Lehnwort”).

          To be frank, this whole pearl clutching seems less than kosher (that’s another loadword from Yiddish, btw) I hardly see the same kind of push-back when my French colleagues make similar non-native speaker “errors”.

          Or when Americans and Brits use the same words to mean completely different things. See: courses (the entire degree programme vs. one individual subject at university), fannies (heh), jumpers (non-gendered upper body garments vs pinafore dresses) to name but a few. Hell, even the word “Asian” means something completely different to Brits and Americans! (South Asians to the former, and East Asians to the latter). Yet, people manage to communicate. Somehow.

          India is now home to the largest population of English speakers. Yes, most of them don’t have it as their first language. But they are still English speakers. And with them they’ll bring in a lot of Indianized English syntax and words. That’s how languages evolve. That’s how English evolved! When a bunch of French speakers (the Anglo-Normans) conquered the “native” “English” speakers of the British Isles. You’d find it hard to understand the language English used to be before the huge changes those “non native” speakers brought into the language.

  23. Hello Priyank — here’s another one that I tend to think may have started in India but has now spread elsewhere.
    I am talking about the use of “post” as a preposition instead of “after”.
    I find it very tin-eared. Your thoughts, please?

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  24. I understand that language constantly evolves. I can understand that new words are coined where, previously, an idea or implement never existed. There was a time when ‘locomotive’ was a new word. Now, we all know what a locomotive is and, assigning a different meaning to ‘locomotive’, simply confuses the reader. When a descriptive word, such as ‘revert’, already exists and has an established meaning, any other use of the word is confusing and the user must be educated.

  25. I think that you are entirely correct when you think that ‘revert’ means changing back to a previous state. When language evolves and a new word is coined, that is ok. When a word becomes obsolete and the meaning is replaced by another meaning, that is also ok. When a word is still in widespread use and the new meaning assigned to that word is simply wrong, the error must be pointed out.

    The operative parts of the article by Ben Zimmer is: Marked in the OALD as “Indian English,” and: Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement, for example, labels it “a mistake” that should be avoided in official correspondence.

    People like the OALD, Alison Waters and Paul Brians should be the authority to which one turns for guidance and not react to incorrectness and mistakes.

    If revert eventually has two meanings it will promote confusion and one meaning will have to go.

    Why invent a new meaning where the correct meaning already exists? It is like bullet and cartridge. The people who are supposed to know, use the terms incorrectly because they do not want to offend, instead of using the terms correctly and teaching in the process.

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  26. Nice job Priyank.
    Alas, it appears, from a few comments here, that many people want to revert to abusing ‘revert’

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  27. It’s funny the international shipping business is rather heavily dominated with those from the Indian subcontinent, as such “Indian-English” has become contagious where am now seeing very blue blooded American kids from a Virginia or Texas collage after 3 months in shipping replying to emails like ” thanks yours, well noted. we shall kindly do the needful and revert back ASAP ” which is particularly funny when the Ukrainian captain of the ship responds…shall the needful not be done kindly what will you revert back to ? … My other favorite is “RIC” ( read in copy ) which is a distinctively Indian almoat chat room’ish approach to cover your a** by soapboxing a large audience via reply to all (usually adding a few more in copy too) to a threaded email chain in which to move the monkey to someone else’s back 🙂 then blame them for missing it later claiming they were “duly informed” 🙂

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  28. Sadly this misuse has somehow seeped through into the Republic of Ireland now too. I fear for the rest of the English speaking world…

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  29. Can you do a piece on the use of ‘made up’ words like:

    updation
    and
    upgradation

    Perhaps a piece on why it is so difficult to get a direct, truthful answer to a question when dealing with alot of the technical folks in India ? It gets very frustrating sometimes. If possible, can you offer some advice on the best way of dealing with it ?

    I saw this blog but I defer to those more immersed in the culture.

    http://www.culturallyindian.com/she-asked-me-why-do-indians-lie-is-it-in-your-culture-i-answered-yes/

    Many thanks.

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  30. Lol yeah!! Absolutely! I recently heard this when I was seeking online support and they said “.. will revert to me” not once but many times. Being from a software development background, your example is the exact fit for correct usage of reverting. Googled if such a phrase even exits, ended up here :p

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  31. Every time someone will ‘revert’ to me, I take the time to explain to them why it is wrong. If we all did that, it will take a much shorter time to get rid of the wrong use of ‘revert’ than allowing it to continue. I tack this onto the end of my reply mail:

    “Please also note that your use of ‘revert’ is wrong.

    v. re·vert·ed, re·vert·ing, re·verts
    v.intr.
    1.
    a. To go back to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief: a meadow reverting to forest; a reformed shoplifter reverting to old habits; a speaker reverting to her opening remarks.
    b. To resume using something that has been disused: had to revert to the typewriter when the computer failed.

    Regards,”

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  32. Being in the tech industry and working with a global workforce I definitely have encountered “revert back”, “do the needful” and other older English phrases, but I feel I would make the same mistakes if I was communicating in a second language. It used to confuse me, and as always there are jokes, but I guarantee my horrible Hindi would be jested at as well. I do agree proper language usage is important for communication, but I would like to think that many professionals would appreciate the effort and be empathetic of the hurdles.

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  33. Hi,

    I just gooogled the keywords “i will revert to you” and guess what – a link to our site was only 2nd on the very 1st page of results. This itself speaks volumes of the quality of your article. on the abuse of the word “revert”. Thanks a lot for this very easy to understand and practically informative piece. Thank God, there are people like you in the cyber space, otherwise grammar would have gone for a toss.

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  34. The following e-mail was sent to Collins Dictionary:

    Hello,

    On this page:

    https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/revert

    Under ‘English: revert’ I find:

    4. US
    to reply to someone
    we will revert to you with pricing and other details

    However, under ‘American: revert’ I see no such incorrect usage.

    Surely, this is wrong as the word ‘revert’ means going back to a previous state and an established word cannot have two distinctly different meanings.

    Regards,

    Gerard

  35. while all of you gripe about the use of the word revert instead of reply, Oxford Dictionary has already incorporated “revert” as the Indian way of saying “reply” That’s what’s so marvellous about the English language. It adopts any new meaning to a given term that the majority decide to give it and so REVERT has every right to exist in Indian communication as an alternative for reply. Take the word “mouse” Who would have thought a mouse would have anything to do with a computer? Words like Masala, chai, etc are all finding their way into the English dictionary so don’t be so STODGY, for if the stiff upper lipped Englishman is willing to accept “revert” as the Indian way of saying “reply” why should you complain.???

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      The word “mouse” was never labelled to the pointing device due to a misinterpretation or misuse of the original word. “Revert” on the other hand is a result of complete misuse cropping out of lack of understanding of the actual meaning of the word. Also, “masala” and “chai” never existed in the English language. Hence, I complain. 🙂

  36. Dear Sharma,
    I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in ‘reverting something’, the thing was in a state, changed and is now going back to its former state. This means something only ‘reverts’ to its old state. Now, if I say I will revert to you, I have never been you, so you are not my old state and I will not turn back into you. I think the whole idea of using revert depends on the context and in using it to mean I will get back to you is nothing to be termed as an abuse of the word. That is what I think anyway, I am not an expert in the language.

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