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Recently listening to a podcast, I heard someone (of unknown British origin) use 'take a punt' in the sense of 'take a chance.' Perhaps this is due to punting in American English referring to American Football, I am at a loss as to why punting would be risky.

  • Is this phrase common in the UK?
  • How did this phrase come about and is it related to a sport? (I assume it's not American Football, as punting is the 'safe' play for fourth down, as opposed to "going for it.")
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Appears someone misused a phrase with which he was not entirely familiar. –  snumpy Apr 12 '11 at 17:56
@Snumpy I believe I misappropriated the origin in my question, because if 'take a punt'='take a chance'; then it would also ='make a bet'|'bet against the bank'. 'Punting' rings in my American ears as something you do to a football. –  mfg Apr 12 '11 at 18:20
For the record, the "kick a ball" sense of punt does exist in British English too, but I'd say the betting sense was more common. –  psmears Apr 12 '11 at 18:25
In Rugby football, a punt can be picked up by the same team if they get there first (which is unlikely but not impossible), and so is not the automatic turnover that it is in American football. Try from 0:49 of this –  Henry Apr 12 '11 at 18:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In British English, take a punt means bet; it is an informal phrase, though.
Its origin is early 18th century, from French ponte ("player against the bank"), from Spanish punto ("a point").

In Australian, take a punt is an informal phrase for "attempt to do something."

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Specifically in BE it means an outside (ie. uncertain) bet. So you could bet on the favourite or 'take a punt' on an unknown outsider. It's probably more common outside actual betting - so you take a punt on eating at a new restaurant or an hiring a less qualified applicant for a job. –  mgb Apr 12 '11 at 20:13

This gambling-related usage of punt or punter is derived from the French ponter - to punt < ponte bet laid against the banker < from Spanish punto - point < from Latin punctum

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