The Meaning of Subvert: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the word subvert means? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word subvert, including its meaning, usage, synonyms, origin, and more!

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What does the word subvert mean?

According to Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, and other dictionary apps, the word subvert, pronounced “səbˈvɜrt”  has a few different meanings. The word subvert is a verb. It can be used to mean to overthrow something that is established or existing, to cause the downfall or ruin of, or to undermine the principles of or corrupt something. For example, the resistance might subvert the Czar in a corrupt government. Other forms of the word subvert include subversion, subverting, subverter, and subverted. According to Google Translate, in Spanish the word subvert is translated to “subvertir” or “subverten,”  in Portuguese it is “subverter,” in Italian it is “sovvertire,” and in German it is “untergraben” or “stürzen.”

This word is often used when describing films or television shows that “subvert” tropes or genres. This means that they are using these different cliche thematic elements deliberately but with a slight change that undermines and reverses its typical meaning, according to Script Society. For example, according to Raindance, the film Scream subverts the horror and slasher genres by utilizing many different overused tropes but by presenting them in a new way. Here, this subversion of genre creates comedy. If someone decides to subvert a certain genre, they must be very deliberate about the changes they are making and their nods to the audience, otherwise they are simply creating another cliche genre film.

What is the etymology of the word subvert?

According to Etymonline, the word subvert has been used since the late 14th century to mean to destroy or overthrow something. This comes from the Old French subvertir meaning to overthrow or destroy, which began to be used in the 13th century. This came directly from the Latin subvertere which meant to turn upside down or overthrow. The word subvertere was formed from the prefix sub meaning “under” and the word vertere meaning “to turn, convert, or transform.” 

How can the word subvert be used in a sentence?

The word subvert can be used in a few different ways in sentences since it has a couple of different definitions. The first definition means to overthrow something that is already established. In the below example, Jenica will use the word subvert to mean to overthrow when talking to her friend Winnie.

Jenica: Honestly, it isn’t fair that the school board is making us go back to in person learning right before taking these state tests. It isn’t fair. All it’s doing is putting undue pressure on us to learn stuff; it’s impossible.

Winnie: I agree. They just don’t understand how stressful it is to keep going back and forth, and how hard it is to keep switching the way that we’re learning in the current crisis. They’re acting like it’s just normal operations.

Jenica: I know. And it can’t be easy on the young children, the school counselors, or the teachers, either. They designed a whole school year around learning from home and now they just have to switch it? We should just subvert the school board!

Winnie: It’s drastic, but I like where your head’s at.

Here, Jenica used the word subvert to describe that she wanted to overthrow the school board since they do not understand the student’s and teacher’s plight. In the next example, Jenica will use subvert to describe genre to her film class.

Jenica: For my presentation, I chose the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was very impressed with how this show subverted both the supernatural monster-of-the-week genre and the high school drama genre.

Teacher: Can you list some ways in which the show does this?

Jenica: Yes. First of all, the main character is a blonde, peppy, cheerleader type. In most high school shows, you would see her as a dumnb cheerleader, or the first to die in a horror film. But in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she is the hero. She is the most powerful person in the show, and never needs a football player to come in and save the day.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word subvert?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word subvert. These words are called synonyms. Synonyms are words that mean the same thing as a given word or phrase, and that can be used interchangeably. One might choose to sue a synonym to expand their own vocabulary, to avoid repeating themselves, or to choose a word that makes the most sense for the context. The below list of synonyms for the word subvert is provided by Thesaurus.

  • destroy
  • corrupt
  • countermine
  • invalidate
  • demolish
  • tumble
  • raze
  • vitiate
  • topple
  • undermine
  • contaminate
  • pervert
  • poison
  • supersede
  • level
  • supplant
  • upset
  • suppress
  • depress
  • debase
  • pull down
  • rebel
  • extinguish
  • capsize
  • deprave
  • debauch
  • invert
  • sabotage
  • reverse
  • defeat
  • ruin
  • overthrow
  • overturn
  • wreck

But what if someone wanted to use a word that meant the opposite of subvert? In this case, they would use an antonym. An antonym is a word or phrase that means the opposite of a given word or phrase. The below list of antonyms for subvert is also provided by Thesaurus

  • uphold
  • succor
  • promote
  • encourage
  • aid
  • do a service
  • cooperate
  • patronize
  • root for
  • take under one’s wing
  • further
  • see through
  • befriend
  • go to bat for
  • stick up for
  • relieve
  • plug
  • do a favor
  • work for
  • prop
  • puff
  • push
  • help
  • open doors
  • second
  • benefit
  • serve
  • boost
  • hype
  • abet
  • support
  • accommodate
  • bolster
  • be of use
  • ballyhoo
  • stump for
  • intercede
  • sustain
  • assist
  • go with
  • save
  • stand by
  • do one’s part
  • sanction
  • buck up
  • maintain
  • stimulate
  • back
  • endorse
  • lend a hand
  • cheer
  • advocate

Overall, the word subvert means to overthrow something that is established or existing, or to undermine the principles of something. This word can be used to describe anything from governments to film genres, and comes from the Latin subvertere meaning to turn upside down. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subvert#synonyms
  2. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/subvert
  3. https://www.etymonline.com/word/subvert
  4. https://www.random.org/lists/?mode=advanced
  5. https://www.raindance.org/7-films-subverted-genre-codes-better/
  6. https://www.scriptsociety.com/post/subverting-genre-conventions
  7. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/help
  8. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/subvert