More American Football English

On Tuesday, I explained how American football is played and talked about the useful football-related term “to huddle.”

Here are two more expressions related to football that we use in everyday English.

Take a Punt

In football, when your team is unlikely to move forward the required 10 yards (see my last post for an explanation) and you know you have to give the ball to the other team, you may choose to punt.

A punt is when you drop the ball from your hands and kick it before it reaches the ground.

A punt is a good idea in this situation because it moves the ball as far from your team’s goal as possible, making it harder for the other team to score.

However, in everyday use, “to take a punt” means to take a chance, to try something even if you may not succeed.

If you are a great chef (professionally-trained cook), you may decide to take a punt at opening your own restaurant.

Another common expression you’ll hear is “It’s worth a punt,” meaning is worth a try, it has a chance to be successful.

Hail Mary Pass

In religion, Catholics often say a prayer (a request for help or way to give thanks) to Mary, Jesus’s mother. This is called the “Hail Mary” prayer.

In football, when a team is not advancing the ball as they need to, it may choose to throw a “Hail Mary pass.”

A Hail Mary pass is when a player throws the ball a long distance and hopes (prays?) that another player on his own team will catch it.

Hail Mary passes are acts of desperation (done with little hope of success). They usually don’t work. A team throws a Hail Mary pass when it’s close to the end of the game and scoring could mean the difference between winning or losing.

In everyday English, we use this phrase when we have very few or no other options and are trying a “long shot,” an action that has only a small chance of being successful.

However, if it succeeds, the reward or result is great!

If you want to be a movie star, but have not been able to get any acting jobs, you might thrown a Hail Mary pass by contacting your very distant (not closely related by blood) relative Steven Spielberg to ask for a part (acting job) in his new movie.

Your chances are not good, but if you succeed, you may be the next Tom Hanks.


P.S. For more information expressions related to sports and football, see our Daily English 145 – The Big Game.

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