Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
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

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 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.

share|improve this answer
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: youtube.com/watch?v=P0Jsz-fSNd4 –  AnWulf Feb 8 '12 at 4:39

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.