There are a number of punts in English; I’m concerned here not with the flat-bottomed boat (from Latin pontō, from pons ‘bridge’) nor with the drop kick (perhaps a dialectal variant of bunt) nor yet the Irish pound, but rather with the betting term meaning ‘to stake against the bank’ (hence UK punter ‘gambler,’ slang ‘customer’). Older etymologies (1st ed. OED, M-W) derive this from Latin punctum ‘point,’ but AHD says “French ponter, from obsolete pont, past participle of pondre, to put (obsolete), lay an egg, from Old French, to lay an egg, from Latin pōnere,” and the Trésor de la langue française informatisé agrees:

Étymol. et Hist. 1718 jeux «miser contre le banquier» intrans. (Ac.); 1831 trans. (Balzac, loc. cit.). Dér. (à l’aide de la dés. –er) de pont, forme anc. du part. passé masc. de pondre* (v. ponte1), propr. «poser, mettre»; cf. l’a. prov. ponher «poser» 1344 […]. Le lat. class. ponere connaît l’accept. «déposer (un enjeu)».

I was looking it up because of this passage in Alexander Veltman’s last novel, Счастье – несчастье [Good luck is bad luck] (1863):

Это былъ дѣйствительный статскій совѣтникъ и ордена Св. Анны кавалеръ, Андрей Павловичь, извѣстный только подъ именемъ и отечествомъ своимъ, всему нѣмецкому клубу, куда ежедневно являлся онъ въ извѣстный часъ, игралъ въ карты вплоть до штрафнаго часа, украшалъ рѣчь свою латинскими пословицами, требовалъ по окончаніи игры рюмку водки, котлету, стаканъ вина, и потомъ понтировалъ или ѣхалъ на ванькѣ обратно на квартиру.

It was Active State Councillor and holder of the Order of Saint Anna Andrei Pavlovich, known only by his given name and patronymic to the entire German club where he appeared every day at a certain hour, played cards up until the fine/penalty hour, embellished his speech with Latin proverbs, at the end of the game called for a glass of vodka, a cutlet, and a glass of wine, and then either punted or took a cab back to his apartment.

I was wondering what “punted” meant, and now I’m wondering how you can go on betting against the bank after the card game is over. I’m also wondering what the штрафной час ‘fine/penalty hour’ is (the time when players pay up, or when it’s illegal to keep playing?). If anyone can shed light on these matters, I will of course be grateful.


  1. (And yes, to preempt the inevitable, there was a Land of Punt as well.)

  2. David Marjanović says

    I’ve taken punt to mean “give up and flee quietly”.

  3. I believe “punt” “to give up and flee quietly” comes from American football. See Wikipedia “quick kick”.

  4. Is it out of the question that he could be taking a flat-bottomed boat back to his apartment instead of a cab?

    My first reflex is to translate штрафной час as “curfew”, which is compatible with the supposition that punting is a way to get home.

    Where does the action take place? Is there a curfew regime and/or a canal system?

  5. Update: Ignore speculation about flat-bottomed boats. Russian dictionaries make it clear that понтировать is part of gambling with cards.

    New hypothesis: his earlier game might have been something that doesn’t play against a banker. So punting is a new activity that continues to involve cards.

  6. Forgive me, Father, for I have punt.

  7. No idea what “penalty hour” is. Just a guess that what happened before the “penalty hour” was one of the “commercial” games, lomber (it’s called omber in English, as I just found in Wiki), whist or some such. They don’t have a bank or punters. And after the “hour” he played “hazard” games, like faro (shtoss, in Russia), which obviously have.

    Edit: I am basically repeating what Ransom said

  8. marie-lucie says

    I am surprised that the etymological sources quote a French verb ponter but not the masculine noun un ponte, a type of gambler (I am not familiar enough with gambling to define it more accurately or use the correct English equivalent).

  9. I’ve taken punt to mean “give up and flee quietly”.

    Depending on context, the American idiomatic usage (which is, indeed, derived from American football) would be more accurately glossed as either “to equivocate or delay” or as “to improvise.” Both senses rest on the idea that Plan A can’t go forward, so it’s time for Plan B.

  10. Trond Engen says

    Not necessarily relevant for anything, but Scandinavian has two words pynt, both ultimately from Latin punct-. One is pynt “decoration” with the verb pynte “decorate”. This seems to be from Fr, appointer (and presumably mediated through Low German). The other is pynt “protruding rock”, which Falk & Torp say was borrowed from Old Frisian pünt.

    As for punt in the Veltman passage, what meaning can be gleaned from the Russian original (понтировалъ)? Google Translate says “participate in a card game as a panther”.

  11. Trond Engen says

    Could punt in cards be another card term borrowed from Russian? Trying to get more sense out of the Wictionary by GT entry, it seems that the senses may be united in something like “double down” and could be from MLG pant, Dutch pand “security, mortgage, pawn”. For the semantic development, in ON the borrowing pantr replaced the older *wadja-, which survives in the verb vedde “bet”.

  12. Trond Engen says

    There is a link to the Wiktionary entry in a comment awaiting moderation above the last one. I could have repeated the link, but I fear that would put the second one in moderation too.

  13. The football-inspired meaning was not one I ever encountered growing up in Oregon, so it’s possible my intuition is inaccurate. However, the meaning to me is give up on something, for now, with a presumption but not necessity of talking it up again in the future.

  14. Trond Engen says

    The comment in moderation must have been eaten because cyrillic. Wiktionary on pontirovat’.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Not related to anything, probably, but there are two Scandinavian nouns pynt, both ultimately from Latin punctum. One is pynt m. “decoration”, with a verb pynte “decorate”, thought to be from a predecessor of French appointer. I think it must have been mediated through Low German or Dutch, The other is pynt m. “protruding rock”, believed by Falk & Torp to be a borrowing from Old Frisian pünt.

  16. @Trond “participate in a card game as a panther”. makes no sense.

    I won’t post the Cyrillic, but if I follow some of your links, Google translate gives me “punter” for that last word.

    So ‘punt’ = ‘participate in a card game as a punter’ = ‘the player who makes a bet against the bank’ is just taking us in circles.

  17. Trond Engen says

    I agree. That’s why I tried to bring in pant and a route Low German/Dutch -> Russian -> English.

  18. As an American, and a football fan, my understanding of „to punt“ is closer to Brett‘s than Laowai‘s. Basically for me it means to give up, abdicate responsibility. No Plan B involved.

  19. As I understand it, punting is plan B — when your main strategy is running out of time or (especially in programming usage) you are far enough along the curve of diminishing returns (cost of programming against frequency of cases where more code would help), do something different that will at least mitigate damage (maybe squaring things away so a human can fix on Monday).

  20. “Punt” is a term in rugby as well – it means to kick the ball while running. You’re carrying the ball, you drop it in front of you and kick it before it reaches the ground.

    I assumed it was related to punt = gamble, because it’s obviously a less accurate way of kicking than a place kick (you put the ball on the ground, retreat, take a run up and kick it) or drop kick (you drop it, let it bounce on the ground and then kick it). And to “take a punt” at something is BrE for “give it my best guess” as well as “make a bet”. But there’s no connotation of a delaying action or a hastily improvised plan B (probably because of the difference in rules between rugby and American football, the latter depending much more on structured plans).

  21. On the translation issue: perhaps the translation should be something like

    “at the end of the game called for a glass of vodka, a cutlet, and a glass of wine, and then either put down another stake or took a cab back to his apartment”.

    As in, he always plays cards up to the “penalty hour”, whatever that is. And when they call the penalty hour, he stops playing and has something to eat, and then, depending how he’s feeling, he either goes home, or he starts playing cards again. I’m picturing something like poker, where you have to ante up – put down an initial stake – at the start of each game, to declare whether you’re in or out.

  22. what meaning can be gleaned from the Russian original (понтировалъ)? Google Translate says “participate in a card game as a panther”.

    This is unquestionably the best translation and you should use no other.

    Related: https://www.xkcd.com/1031/

  23. I wanted to say something about Spanish punto as found in the name of the game punto y banca ‘punto banco baccarat’, but I can’t find any attestations before the 1930s, which makes me think it must be a reanalysis of the English… which is of unknown origin itself.

  24. marie-lucie says

    Alon: it must be a reanalysis of the English…

    … or French! But I don’t know much French vocabulary for those sorts of games.

  25. Bob Gillham says

    Approps of nothing much, but you may find it interesting that the gambling type use of ‘punt’ in Oswestry, Shropshire UK which had (and maybe has) a quite eclectic vocabulary, is “to take a long shot”: ‘it was 300 to 1 so I thought I’d take a punt’ or in record or book buying ‘it was only 50 p so I had a punt’…this may be where “Customers=Punters” comes from suckers who will pay money for long shots that are never going to come off. Incidentally a DJ of my acquintance described any dance tunes that got into the charts a “punter rubbish’…

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