punt / punter

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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punt / punter

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Dec 03, 2015 5:07 am

<2012 Rebus reckoned she [[barmaid]] had chosen the soundtrack, whether the punters liked it or not. As she poured his beer . . .”—Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin>
First of all the only punt I know of is in American football and since I have never played or followed the game I don’t know what it means and why you’d do it.

So for stupidos like myself or for those not familiar with American football, I’ll define punt and why you’d do it. In non-football discussions I’ve heard ‘let’s’punt, which struck me (right or wrong) as a way of getting out of a sticky situation. See three quotes at the bottom of the page.

I would also mention that I am going quite beyond what is necessary to explain the punt in my above quote in order to educate myself and others (not in the know) on the larger set of meanings of punt/punter:


PUNT: This is a football term defined as the act of kicking the ball in a similar manner to a drop-kick, except a punt occurs before the ball hits the ground. The punter catches the ball and drops it towards their foot in order to kick it down the field to the other team. A punt will occur as a team has reached fourth down and has decided that instead of attempting to go for a first down, they will give the ball back to the other team by using a punt. This enables the team to push the ball farther down the field, farther away from the end-zone on which their opposition is attempting to score. When a punt play is called in, the opposing team will place a punt returner at the far end of the field where they predict the kick will come down. Once caught, the player may attempt to run the ball and improve their team's field position. This is known as a punt return.
[[The origin of this sporting punt is unknown]]

A reasonable guess, seems to me, is that a ‘punter’ is a name for a sportsman. But that’s wrong. A look in a few dictionaries might be helpful:


PUNT noun

1) [early 18th century and still in use] One who bets in a gambling game.

2) [late 19th century] A bet; thus take a punt (gamble, wager) [[OED: a bet, a risk, a gamble]]

PUNT verb:

1) [18th century and still in use] To gamble, to wager; literally and figuratively. [[OED: Cards. In baccarat, faro, etc.: to lay a stake against the bank.]]

2) [1980s and still in use] To sell, to promote.

3) [2000s] To make an investment in.

Etymology: Unknown; originally Standard English use in certain card-games, to bet against the bank; note also Spanish ponto, a point, faro jargon punt, a point.

PUNTER noun:

1) [early 18th century and still in use] A gambler on cars, dice, horses, dogs, etc. [[OED: Cards. A person who plays against the bank at baccarat, faro, etc.]]

2) [1930s and still in use] The victim of a confidence trickster’s schemes.

3) [1930s and still in use] A generic term for a member of the general public, particularly when in the role of customer, especially of a prostitute, a casino and other slightly ‘shady’ enterprises.

I’ll check one more dictionary to see that we haven’t missed anything important:


PUNTER noun:

1) [U.K.] (Gambler): A person who gambles (= risks money guessing the result of something) <Bookmakers are offering punters odds of 6–1 on the horse Red Devil winning the race.>

2) [U.K.] informal (Customer): A customer; a user of services of buyer of goods. < Many hotels are offering discounts in an attempt to attract punters/pull in the punters.>

3) [U.K.] slang: A person who uses the services of a prostitute.

The best fit for punter in my above quote seems to be that of the Cassell’s punter noun 3) where our punters are not only customers in a very sleazy bar but a place where stolen property was bought and sold. There may have also been gambling going on which would fit with his noun 1).

There is one more use of punt, which I have heard fairly often [e.g. "Let's punt' (see above "a way to get out of a sticky situation") and which doesn't seem to fit any of the above. Here are a more few examples:
<2010 “As a woman who did it, I can honestly say that I'm not sure. I made the decision standing in line at Boston City Hall, filling out our marriage license application. I didn't realize until that moment that I would have to declare my name intentions on that document, and I felt ambushed. I thought I'd have time to figure it out once we got married. So I punted. My last name became my middle, and I took my husband's last name.” —Boston Globe (Boston Massachusetts), 14 February>

<2012 “Today, when the Democratic National Chairwoman was given an opportunity to honestly apologize for their error and the behavior of the Democratic delegates, she punted, calling their purposeful offense a "technical error.”—States News Service, 6 September>

<2015 “But she [[Hillary]] punted when asked about foreign fund-raising at the Clinton Foundation and whether it posed a conflict of interest.”—CBS This Morning, 20 May>
My best guesses for this one is: punted = avoided the question; improvised; slipped put of a sticky situation.

Ken G – December 2. 2015
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Re: punt / punter

Post by trolley » Thu Dec 03, 2015 7:32 am

Well done, Ken. I always understood punt (and punter) as it applies to American and Canadian football. I’ve heard it used in British English and assumed (from context) that a “punter” was just an undesirable person; a bastard, a fucker, a wanker. I never made the gambler/confidence man connection. As kids, we used the verb “punt” to mean unceremoniously kicked out… “We got punted from the pub last night.” “ She found out that I took Susan to the dance so she punted me”. I’m sure you are correct about the meaning of your last example (slipped out of a sticky situation). This goes back to the football connection. The possession team must advance the ball at least ten yards down the field. On their last attempt or “down” (third in Canadian and fourth in American football) the team may elect to punt. You are sort of giving up the play and taking the easy way out by booting the ball as far downfield as you can and giving up possession. It’s sort of a last option but it does take the heat off of you (for a while). It’s usually the easier way out, when you’re being stymied. Sometimes it pays off …sometimes it doesn’t. Politicians often punt when the going gets tough.
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Re: punt / punter

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Dec 03, 2015 8:35 pm

The main use of punt and punter in the UK is the betting reference.

It can also mean a stab at something. "I'm not sure that I know the answer, but I will take a punt at it".

I believe punt, to kick a ball, came from rugby. The drop-kick, where the player drops the ball to the ground and kicks it whilst it is still bouncing upwards is quite difficult (I never mastered it), but the punt, when the ball is dropped and kicked whilst it is still falling is easier, and more importantly, can be carried out when running, is easier, but less accurate.
Hence, being punted out of the pub means being kicked out without ceremony.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: punt / punter

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:50 pm

'Kicking the can down the road' also conveys the same sense as is conveyed by 'punt' in the following citations:
<2012 “Today, when the Democratic National Chairwoman was given an opportunity to honestly apologize for their error and the behavior of the Democratic delegates, she punted, calling their purposeful offense a "technical error.”—States News Service, 6 September>

<2015 “But she [[Hillary]] punted when asked about foreign fund-raising at the Clinton Foundation and whether it posed a conflict of interest.”—CBS This Morning, 20 May>
Alternatively, the above-mentioned individuals could be said to have prevaricated, equivocated, hedged, or been unwilling to commit themselves.
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Re: punt / punter

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Dec 04, 2015 3:37 am

Fellow wizards from an Aussie point of view I agree with Bob as to how the word punt/punter is used. I would add that in Aus a punter is not automatically a bad kind of guy. Mostly he is seen as just your average punter. In other words a bloke who enjoys having a bet be it on the footy, horses or whatever.

I note that it has widened however and you may hear it used to define a group of, usually, men as in, "The sales manager asked us if we thought the punters would like the new car."

As to etymology the Las Vegas Advisor took a punt.

WoZ who only punts footballs
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

End of topic.
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