9

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.")
6
  • 1
    Appears someone misused a phrase with which he was not entirely familiar.
    – snumpy
    Apr 12, 2011 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, 2011 at 18:20
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 18:25
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 18:50
  • Actually, even in the US a punted ball can end up in the possession of punting team, if the opposing team touches the ball first. It's more often seen in kickoffs rather than punts (the "onside kick" intended to provoke this scenario), but can occur in either. "Drop back ten and punt" is a common idiom meaning "take a wild chance and hope for good luck"
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 9, 2017 at 20:24

6 Answers 6

16

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."

2
  • 5
    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, 2011 at 20:13
  • 2
    A gambler is commonly referred to as a 'punter' in the UK, though this term has also come to mean a 'customer' in some circumstances.
    – JHCL
    Sep 10, 2015 at 11:12
5

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

3

It's a gambling term, which was used when betting against the bank.

1800s or so, a French better would shout ponte or a Spanish one would say punt.

English adopted it for "to make a bet", so it developed over time to just mean take a chance or have a go at something.

We also use punter to mean a customer, as the person making the bet would be punting, making them a punter.

1
  • Basically the same answer as kiamlaluno's above but adding an explanation for "punter" is a useful addition.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2020 at 7:06
2

My Tuppence : OP needs a passport.

The answers are interesting: the etymology is without contest. Its use in AU/NZ - and probably by the chap in the origibal post - is the same as in the UK.

It is to take a calculated risk for gain, often from a relatively disadvantaged position - the very nature of risk. In the rugby-loving AU and NZ, punting is definitely a "rugger" term in current usage, but stated with its roots intact every time it is used. Rugby lovers know that a punt is a risky kick, with the potential for massive gain, but with the risk of likely loss of possession.

In American football, punting is derived directly from Rugby football, in which a punt is one of three types kick (punt, drop and place) in which the ball never touches the ground after leaving the ball carrier's hands.

It is often a get out of trouble strategy to move the ball forward becuase it is near the goal line. For this reason, punted kicks in rugby, taken from within the 25 yard line, are almost always diagonally aimed downfield, to attempt to cross the touch line within the opposing side's 25 yard line. That's a large "yardage" gain acquired from a former position of risk (within one's own 25 yard line). The side which punted has moved the ball all the way downfield, at risk of loss of possession, to increase the chance of scoring and mitigate risk of being scored against.

The punt is a gamble of a kick, taken to offset risk of a try (touchdown) by the opposing side. In US football, the punt is typically taken for the same reasons: when the team is on near their own goal line, at the 4th down (nearing loss of possession (offense), the purpose of the punt is to get the line of scrimmage all the way down the field and mitigate risk of scoring by the opposing side. In both games, it is a likely loss of possession.

The physical mechanism of a punt kick: the ball is let loose in the air in from of the kicker, and she or he kicks it while it is aloft, without it touching the ground, usually at a diagonal, with the aim os a singe bounce then out of touch far downfield.

This technique differentiates the "punt" from a "drop kick" because the drop kick is allowed to bounce and struck immediately after touching earth, with the purpose of sending the drop-kick ball between the uprights of the goal posts, and thereby gaining 3 points. One cannot gain points by punting between the posts. Only place-kick after try, or drop-kick, on the fly.

In both games, a punt is a gamble... hence the classical derivation from gambling against the is correct.

In rugby (and US football) the punted kick is risky because it leads to probable loss of possession of the ball, by kicking it forward, downfield, over the opposing sides heads, in the hope of regaining it, or getting a "line out" downfield, and thereby gaining a massive kicked advantage.

The risk: if the ball is caught or recovered by the opposing side, before going out of touch, the punt has caused loss of possession.

The full back often takes a punt after catching the ball near the goal line, which is the end zone in American football. The punt is used to loft the ball over the opposing sides and is chased by the kicker to avoid an offside status (that derived (as is rugby football) from proper Football (known as "soccer" in the US).

It is usually taken while running and often by the Fullback after catching the ball inside one's 25 yard line. A punt "return" is a kick made from inside the 25 yard line, often by the Fullback, after catching an incoming kick. Punting from inside the 25 yard line which will stop play where the ball goes "out of touch" - and to result in a "line-out" (from which "line of scrimmage" is derived) at that yard-point and side on the touch line. A punt taken outside one's 25 yard line must bounce (touch ground) before going out of touch to achieve the same forward yard gain. If it goes out of touch without bouncing, then the line-out occurs at the yard and side of putch (field) where the punt was taken.

Punt is also a small angular nosed boat, as noted, and the "pont" gun was usually strapped to a bench in that boat used for killing larger number of waterfowl.

0

In the early 1900's they had a big gun called a punt gun used for shooting ducks , looks like it would've taken anything out in the near vicinity without much precision

https://twitter.com/oldpicsarchive/status/609042179831541760

3
  • 2
    Nice picture, but probably not the correct explanation. Jun 11, 2015 at 22:07
  • 1
    And in the early 1700s they punted at the gaming table, which somewhat predates punt guns. Besides which, with a punt gun you are practically guaranteed to hit your quarry, making it almost the opposite to the meaning here.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:39
  • A punt gun was a gun used for fowling in fenland whilst lying in a punt. Nothing to do with taking a chance.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 9, 2017 at 23:31
-1

I very much doubt any well established English phrase relies on an Americanism - least of all from American football - for its liniage.

To 'take a punt' is simply to take a chance... Don't know whether it's from French, Latin or Ancient Greek... But it's certainly not from an Americanism.

The day English English becomes subservient to American English is the day I'll speak nothing but Manderin.

4
  • 1
    PhraseFinder seems to disagree with your first sentence. And the MailOnline reveals more of the awful truth: "In 1832, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fulminating about the 'vile and barbarous' new adjective that had just arrived in London. The word was 'talented'. It sounds innocuous enough to our ears, as do 'reliable', 'influential' and 'lengthy', which all inspired loathing when they first crossed the Atlantic." Mar 23, 2015 at 23:41
  • This does not answer the question. (And it’s Mandarin, not Manderin.) Jun 12, 2015 at 0:30
  • Don't worry, it's not an Americanism. It's an Australianism. An Australianism that derived from an earlier British English verb for betting, but an Australianism all the same.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:41
  • @JonHanna Which probably makes things even worse in Gareth's eyes. It is one thing for English to take its cues from American - but from Australian?
    – WS2
    Sep 30, 2021 at 17:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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