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Somewhere, I picked up the use of “to punt something” (or “to punt on something”) to mean “choosing not to do something” or “choosing not to do something now”. Examples:

The weather looks bad, let’s punt (on) the bike ride.

But I am having doubt that this is a correct use of the term, and I can find hardly any related references, so I am seeking clarification.

Also, is it to put something or to punt on something, or both?

Some of the possibly related references I found are:

  • Let’s extend all the tax cuts and punt again. (source)

  • The free dictionary says:
    1. Informal To cease doing something; give up: Let's punt on this and try something else.
  • Multiple slang dictionarlies (this one and this one), which maybe indicates that this used in computer jargon, but not in general English.
  • According to Yahoo answers, it is also business jargon.
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    CDO lists it, marking it as informal and AmE. May 7 '17 at 15:18
  • 2
    @Edwin: Weird. It seems a very counter-intuitive usage to me, given that to take a punt on X is a much more common idiom meaning to try X (metaphorically place a bet on it), which is effectively the complete opposite. May 7 '17 at 15:34
  • @FF But wasn't it your grandad who said something similar about 'cleave' (it might have been Anne). May 7 '17 at 15:48
  • @tchrist, fixed. May 7 '17 at 15:50
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    @FumbleFingers It is from "punting" a rugby ball, or American football. In Britain we talk about "kicking (an idea/proposal) into touch" - same sort of thing.
    – WS2
    May 7 '17 at 15:56
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Per the OED it is a North American colloquial term, which derives from that meaning of punt which is to do with kicking a Rugby ball, or American football.

It is sense 4a of third meaning of the verb punt - to "kick after dropping [the ball] from the hands, and before it touches the ground".

  1. N. Amer. colloq. a. intr. To give up, back out; to defer or avoid taking action or responsibility, to ‘pass the buck’.

1966 Chicago Tribune 10 Nov. (North Neighborhood News section) 3 a 1/4 I've never been a fashion commentator before so I'll punt.

1972 N.Y. Times 16 Apr. 42/3 When Jerry saw that he was not going to run things, he punted.

1982 Christian Sci. Monitor (Nexis) 12 Aug. The board doesn't really seem to know how to handle the de-icing problem and has punted on a major issue that could have strong bearing on protecting passengers next winter.

2002 Yahoo! Internet Life Feb. 100/2 Sometimes it's easier to punt and assign the whole damn problem to a computer.

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    Yes, In American football the team punts the ball when they decide to give up trying for a touchdown and give the ball to the other team. The idea is to kick the ball as far down field as they can to make sure the other team is as far from scoring as possible when the ball is turned over to them.
    – Jim
    May 7 '17 at 18:24
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    @Jim Not entirely dissimilar to tactics in rugby. Interestingly, the equivalent metaphor in Britain is "kicking for touch" (i.e. to get the ball over the touchline, and hence out of play). Are you still intending to move house? No, we've kicked the idea into touch for the time being.
    – WS2
    May 7 '17 at 21:33
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I am no expert, but it is easy to overthink these things. I am the sister of three brothers. One of my brothers just texted that he was comfortable “punting“ on our summer house rental because of the pandemic. In this case he was referring to accepting the negotiation with the house owner to forfeit the deposit, unless the owner can rent to somebody else, because it is too risky to congregate like that at a time like this.

At first I thought it was a typo for “bunting“, the baseball term. After looking it up, though, I think that he did mean punting, and that both terms mean approximately the same thing: to choose the less risky move; to take a small amount of progress rather than the likelihood of a bigger loss; in a sense, trying to keep your options open. And that is what we are doing with the summer house rental. We are accepting the loss of the 50% deposit, rather than risk the family inadvertently contracting covid 19. And we are not demanding the return of that 50% deposit, because we are going to want to rent the same house next year, and want to stay on good terms with the owner. For the same reason, the owner is forfeiting the rest of the rental payment from us.

I think that “punting“ is not really meant to mean choosing not to do anything. It means taking the less risky move, and trying to keep your options open.

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  • This contains the essence of a good answer. Replacing the personal blog part with cited referrences to an authoritative source (online dictionary of phrase or other) would be preferred here, it's just the way we work. Enjoy the tour and when you have some free-time, read-up in the help center about how we work. Welcome to EL&U. Jun 10 '20 at 12:45
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In Australian colloquial language, to "take a punt" means "give it a shot, give it a go", to "take a chance and do it".

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  • See Fumble Fingers' second comment: it's British (Commonwealth) English.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 10 '20 at 13:37
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To me, as an I.T. person, punting means when you ask for support on an issue, and the response is lazy and asks you to perform actions that are so vague, all encompassing, and unhelpful (like "Check the network."). They just put the onus back on you with no meaningful input.

"I asked for assistance on this issue, and they just punted it back to me."

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"Punt something" more tends to bet on something. Another example. When NYC Council urges to remove Jefferson Thomas's statue, NY Post says in its editorial: "Mayor Bill de Blasio has opted to punt the issue to another commission led by his wife, charged with pondering a whole new wave of monument removals, building renamings, etc. — which adds up to stalling until he can see how the wind is blowing in the long term."

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    Not my downvote, but I can understand the reason for it. Here, 'punt the issue to another commission' means, essentially, 'pass the buck'. Nothing to do with the 'take a punt on' = 'bet on' usage. More akin to 'kick the issue into touch'. Jun 20 '20 at 13:42
  • The answer does seem to be contradicting itself. Jun 20 '20 at 20:19

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