In Reply to: Re: Peter out posted by RRC on October 09, 2009 at 17:31:
: : When punt receivers want the ball to come to a stop, rather than catch it, they say "peter" to alert their teammates. Does this practice originate from the phrase "peter out"?
: Terms in sports and games are often widespread orally before anyone thinks to question them or write them down and sometimes the "original" meaning is lost.
: A couple of guesses gleaned from the Internet: a peter (penis) is something a football player wouldn't want to touch (evidentally there are some teams that shout "poison" also something you don't want to touch) or it's from "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater" - I'm guessing because he "couldn't keep her".
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the origin thus: "Origin unknown," and gives two somewhat similar definitions.
"1. intr. To run out, decrease, or fade; gradually to come to an end or cease to exist. In early use esp. of a vein of ore (U.S. Mining slang). Usu. with out. [citations:]
1846 Quincy (Illinois) Whig 6 Jan. 1/4 When my mineral petered why they all Petered me. If so be I gets a lead, why I'm Mr. Tiff again. 1854 H. H. RILEY Puddleford vi. 84 He 'hoped this 'spectable meeting war n't going to Peter-out'. 1865 S. BOWLES Across Continent 133 Humboldt River..runs west and south from three hundred to five hundred miles, and then finds ignominious end in a 'sink', or..quietly 'peters out'. . . .
"2. trans. U.S. To finish off, to exhaust; to cause or allow to peter out; to fritter, squander. With out, away.
1869 [implied in PETERED adj.]. 1878 C. HALLOCK Amer. Club List & Sportsman's Gloss. p. viii/1 Peter-out, to fail; to exhaust; to collapse. , , ,"
Among the citations are some that use peter by itself as a verb, without "out" or "away."