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In book I am reading ("German for dummies") appears the following sentence:

Pronouns are the handy group of words that can punt for nouns so you don't sound redundant.

This sentence does not make sense with any of the definitions of punt found in the dictionary.
Is there another meaning, or is it a typo?

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I think what they mean here by "punt for" is "fill in for" or maybe "stand in for", or maybe it could be written as "...words that can assume the role of nouns..." – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Feb 7 '12 at 17:12
Google Books records 9 written instances of "can punt for" (of which OP's citation and "Intermediate German for dummies" are two). Three are for literal punting on a watercraft, one is clearly metaphorical for "coast/take it easy", and the rest refer to moving the ball forward in American Football without actually throwing or kicking it. Maybe the author of OP's book isn't a native speaker of English in the first place. – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '12 at 18:40
What a horrible use of the word "punt." The word "substitute" seems much better in this context, or even the phrase "act as a proxy". – Robert Harvey Feb 7 '12 at 18:56
@RobertHarvey: Aw, but "punt" is so much more colorful. – Jay Feb 7 '12 at 22:10
It would be reasonable to say "that you can use when you need to punt and use a different word", but to say that the pronoun is punting is a very poor application of the metaphor. – Hot Licks Oct 26 at 22:02

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'm no sports fan, so anyone more knowledgeable, feel free to correct me if I mess up the details here. (Like you'd hesitate ...)

In American football, a team has four "downs" in which to make a required amount of progress (10 yards). If they cannot progress that far in their four tries, the other team gets the ball and they can then attempt to move the ball and eventually score.

If it becomes apparent to a team that they are not going to get far enough and the other team will get the ball, the first team wants this to happen as far from the other team's goal as possible. One way to do this is to "punt", which is to drop-kick the ball downfield (away from the other team's goal).

So in football, a punt is what you do when you have concluded that success is impossible and you want to minimize the effects of failure. Thus it has entered general speech to say thigs like, "This project is a failure. Let's just punt and see if we can re-use some of the work on another project." (It's also common to expand it a little to "fall back and punt".)

Or in this case, "We don't want to use a noun, so let's punt and use a pronoun instead." They're saying that a pronoun is the "next best thing" to using a "real" noun. Of course it's not really inferior to use a pronoun in the sense that it's a mistake or you would be better to use a noun, but they're giving the idea that a pronoun is a substitute for a noun.

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One other aspect of punting that is often a motivator for the use of the term is the idea that "we'll let somebody else deal with this now"--once you've punted, you no longer have control of the ball (real or metaphorical), it's up to others to decide what to do. – Hellion Feb 7 '12 at 18:40
Yeah, from the comment of @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner I understood it was a sport metaphor. but kudos for the great answer! – idober Feb 7 '12 at 19:38
Slight nit-pick here ... a punt is not a "drop-kick". A drop-kick (or dropkick) in football (American football) is when the ball hits the ground and bounces back up and is then kicked. One can dropkick the ball between the uprights for three points (just like a field goal) or the PAT (Point After Touchdown). Rarely seen in football but used often in rugby. Here is a youtube: – AnWulf Feb 8 '12 at 4:39

It is likely in this case that to "punt for" means to "punt on behalf of". To "punt" refers to the football metaphor for giving up, for reverting to plan B, etc.

As the leading answer has detailed, "punting" in American football is the act of kicking the ball downfield to the other team, voluntarily giving up possession of the ball in the face of an impending failure to convert to a first down. This is not a forfeiture of the game, but rather a calculated trade-off done in hopes that the team might score on some future possession. To give up possession is not ideal - ideally, one's team would advance downfield and either convert to a first down, or score by way of a touchdown or field goal - but under certain circumstances, such as on fourth down, it is better to give up possession and place the ball as far away from one's own goal line as possible than it is to attempt and fail to convert to a first down, which would still yield possession to the other team, but would also leave them in much better scoring position.

Similarly, when presented with a problem for which the ideal solution cannot be implemented, one might "punt" and revert to a less-than-ideal solution. Example: "We would have liked to install a state-of-the-art swimming pool in the dormitories, but alas, we had to punt and buy the students passes to the local rec center." This usage connotes a deferral of the problem or a postponement of the ideal solution.

When one punts for someone or something, one is taking on a specialized substitute role with the implication that the substitution is not exact and the results will differ from what the original entity might have achieved. The implication is that the entity doing the "punting" is less than ideal, but still adequate.

In the case of pronouns "punting" for nouns, the pronouns are behaving as substitutes for nouns (much like a punter would substitute for the quarterback in a football game on fourth down), but are doing so with less precision than the nouns otherwise would. The pronouns still, however, get the job done.

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Could you expand on this a little? Your points have already been addressed in other answers and comments; it would be useful if you could cite some sources, examples or definitions to support your suggestion. – JHCL Oct 26 at 22:34

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