“Advise”, “revert” and the importance of empathy

We regularly get people coming to this blog who have searched for the phrase “advise and revert”. Invariably, these visitors are from Asian countries where English is not the first language.

I suspect an Anglophone colleague has utterly befuddled such readers by sending them an email promising to “advise and revert” or asking them to “please advise and revert”.

If you are one of the confused, all you need to know is this: the phrase “advise and revert” simply means “reply with the information”.

If, however, you are the Anglophone who is confusing your international colleagues, please stop doing so now.

The phrase “advise and revert” is not standard English. It is not an acceptably formal use of the language. It is not speedy, slick shorthand that makes you sound impressively busy and on top of things.

It is pretentious corporate jargon. And it is gobbledygook to most non-native speakers, who would have learned that “to advise” means “to give advice” and “to revert” means “to return to a previous condition or state”.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes

Imagine if someone had sent you an email that appears to be saying “please give advice and return to your previous condition”. Wouldn’t it stress you out, not knowing what was being asked of you?

Stressing out your colleagues and clients does not make for good business relationships. Perhaps that’s why one international company we’ve worked with even states in its corporate style guide that all written documents should use inclusive language.

“Advise and revert” is the opposite of inclusive. It is language that excludes non-native speakers.

So if you’re working in a global organisation or with international clients, show empathy with all your readers and keep your language simple.

See also “Advise” and “revert”: two words to avoid in your emails

10 Responses to ““Advise”, “revert” and the importance of empathy”

  1. Elaine Swift says:

    Great post, Clare. I loathe the use of ‘revert’ in this way. And just about all other words used incorrectly because someone has decided it sounds smart and fashionable.
    ‘Piece’ is one of my bugbears. As in ‘across the piece’ and ‘It’s about that piece’. Shudders.

  2. Doug says:

    I’m a US-born-and-raised English speaker and writer, and even I would be thoroughly befuddled by that phrase. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the verb “revert” used in any sense other than “undo.”

    What does the “and revert” part add, anyway? Doesn’t “Please advise” pretty much cover the territory?

  3. Tony says:

    I work in a UK corporate environment and the amount times I read “Please be advised” or “Please advise me” really vexes me. When you try to explain you get looks of blankness (‘that’s what you say in business’) or active refusal to accept the facts ( ‘it sounds politer that way’). You can only tell people so many times before you appear to them to be a old bore and just have to give up.

    The other supposedly polite mistake is the mis-use of myself/yourself. I was not popular with one of my team when I made him redo a whole stack of letters with “please refer to the letter that we sent to yourselves”. And even though he begrudgingly re-did the work he wouldn’t accept that he was wrong.

    Bah humbug!

  4. Clare Lynch says:

    Tony, please keep up the good fight! It is one of my bugbears that people think they’re being polite or professional when in actual fact they are just being illiterate.

  5. Kate Paré says:

    The tragic irony is that when we as writers advise on a better approach, it invariably reverts to their original version anyway. Ho hum.

  6. Helen Walton says:

    Oh the ‘myself/yourself’ politeness issue. It drives me insane with fury! I only started noticing it a few years ago … Now, everyone is doing it. Even colleagues whom I have bullied into using less/fewer correctly seem to get this one wrong. I have a theory that ‘yourself’ in some way sounds more impersonal or formal, a kind of separate entity, and therefore not as pointed as ‘you’. I wonder if people are spontaneously creating a formal conjugation – the ‘vous’ of French or ‘usted’ of Spanish, which we lost when we gave up thou/you. Anyway – I shall stop theorising and go back to writing a presentation that would deservedly be held up to obloquy were it presented here…

  7. Chris says:

    ‘advise & revert’ – gibberish. As a native English speaker I’d feel excluded by such nonsense.

    @tony. keep fighting the good fight. ‘that’s what you say in business’ – yes, if you want to be branded a duffer by anyone who has read a book.

  8. ‘Revert’ is very common in Indian English – of the business variety of course. I’ve never seen it even in the dreadful government writing I see a lot of here in Australia. I’d be interested in seeing if your search queries were coming from the sub-continent.

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  10. Michael Williams says:

    ‘Advise and revert’ and ‘do the needful’ and a host of other archaic, silly euphemisms are inflicted on the rest of us from Indians educated using the language of the East India Company textbooks from the 16th century. They don’t understand that the rest of us don’t use that language anymore. We have updated it to much sillier, modern business euphemisms.

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