Context : football (soccer), UK.


Westfields' latest defeat was a 3-0 reverse against high-fliers Alvechurch on Tuesday night.

Barcelona handed a huge boost to title rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid as they slipped to a 1-0 reverse to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Sunderland, who slip into the bottom three after a second straight defeat following last weekend's 2-1 reverse at Manchester City, were booed off at half-time.

'Reverse' seems to refer to a loss here, but is it entirely synonymous with 'loss' or 'defeat'? If so, what is the origin of the term?

  • 1
    It is an unusual expression, but as you rightly deduce it means a loss or a setback. You will not see it in the sports pages all that often. I have seen it persuasively argued that British writers and speakers tend to use more idiomatic variation than do Americans. I have often noticed that Americans will ask why a particular expression is used, whilst there was another more obvious alternative. I suppose it is just to add variety.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 22:18

1 Answer 1


In this context reverse means defeat, and is not restricted to football or sport.

Oxford Dictionaries online gives the following for one of four uses of the word as a noun:

An adverse change of fortune; a setback or defeat:

‘United suffered their heaviest reverse of the season’

The OED gives the first example of its use in 1526, and this and other early examples cited there refer to general adverse change in fortune. It suggests ‘defeat in battle’ was its most frequent modern (i.e. early 20th century) usage. So, no, it is not entirely synonymous with ‘defeat’, but can be used in a wider context (although it is somewhat old-fashioned). I imagine that in its original use to indicate a change in fortune, the word ‘reverse’ implied the reverse/opposite/contrary of previous good fortune.

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