International Grammar: Punting

439 wc

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. :)

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