International Grammar: Punting

Risking military action by the NFL by showing this picture of Drew Butler.

Here’s a grammar thing I learned, regarding the word “punt.”

I’m American, so the word “punt” has always meant exactly one thing: Punting a football, as in kicking the ball to the other team. (American football, that is.)

Occasionally I also see “punting” used metaphorically, as in something like, “I’m going to punt on making that decision.” In that sense, it means you’re going to put off making the decision, or give it to someone else to make.

If I were to write that I was going to “punt” on playing an upcoming video game, I would be saying that I was not going to play that game. I’d probably never put it that way, because it’s a bit awkward, but that would be the intent.

The point is, I associate the word “punt” with a rejection of sorts. A negative. Almost a synonym for “pass” or “skip” or “bypass.” As in, “I’m going to pass on making that decision.”

Recently I saw Bhagpuss’s article on Ashes of Creation. He talks about how he plans to support the Kickstarter. Then his last paragraph begins, “It’s worth a punt.”

Instant cognitive dissonance. He wants to support the game, but he’s “punting?” In my mind, those two things were opposites.

It reminded me that I had seen unfamiliar usages of punt before. A quick search of my Twitters turns up phrases like, “worth a punt,” “punt the Tory line,*” “cheeky little punt.”

Well, guess what? It turns out there are other places in the world besides America that use the English language.

I’m not sure this accounts for all of the above phrases, but in some of these non-American places, a “punter” is not, in fact, a position on a football team. A punter is also another word for a gambler. Therefore, a punt is another word for a bet, or a gamble, or a chance.

So when Bhagpuss writes, “It’s worth a punt,” the Americanized translation would be something like, “It’s worth a try” or “It’s worth taking a chance on.”

“Taking a punt” is apparently a common phrase in these wacky non-American places that I understand exist in the world. Who knew? I have a feeling that if I watch some British comedy shows again, I will now understand more of the jokes.

It’s weird when you have to translate English into English. :)

* “The Daily Mail, of course, is on hand to dutifully punt the Tory line.” I think this might be a third meaning of “punt,” because it still doesn’t make sense. :)

2 thoughts on “International Grammar: Punting”

  1. Even though I’m English, I’ve been steeped in American language and culture all my life – more so than just the average cultural bleed-through due to having been a big-time comics fan from the age of four (before I could read the things). I also, somewhat pretentiously, like to blur my language registers, particularly on the blog. I mostly use American spellings (that “ou” thing is Norman French anyway…).

    I’m generally quite wary of using British slang on the blog but some expressions are so mainstream that I forget they are slang in the first place. In the case of “punt” though I did briefly consider whether to change it but I liked the crisp sound for the final line so I went with it. British English does also use “punt” in the context you’re familiar with. You could say “I’m going to punt that one into the long grass” to indicate you were going to put it to one side for now and not think about it, for example. You’d usually say “kick” though.

    Also don’t forget that a punt is a type of flat-bottomed boat much loved by university undergraduates and people who think it’s still the 1920s. I’ve been in a few.

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