Thursday, 10 March 2011

Dialect: What's a 'punter'?

I'm listening to my morning news show while I get ready for the day, and the weatherman mentions a headline that reads, "Brit punter wins tickets, wins jackpot."

The weatherman and one of the anchorwomen are both big sports fans, so of course they both found the use of the word punter interesting. But this story has nothing to do with football, he explains: A punter is a gambler. He adds that he hopes he hasn't just said anything offensive to folks who speak British English.

You may know that I'm a fan of the British soap opera Coronation Street, which is where I've picked up much of what I know about British slang. Judging from how the word is used on Corrie,
a punter is often a gambler but it can also just be a client or a customer. The people who frequent the Rover's pub are referred to as punters, and I believe I've even heard the term applied to people who call for one of Steve's cabs.

A quick peek in the dictionary confirms it:  you can use punter to replace either gambler or customer.

I was a little disappointed not to find an entry for punter at the Online Etymology Dictionary, but Webster did offer the information I needed on the origin of the word. According to their entry, the word has been in use since 1710, and comes ultimately from Latin. It comes into English from the French ponter, to point, which in some games means to play against the bank. This is why punter is especially used when referring to someone who gambles at the bookmaker's (that's legal in England, as it is in Las Vegas, by the way.)

I've just thought of a convenient place to use "punter" in my writing this week. Can you find a unique way to use it in your work? Let me know!

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