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The meaning and origin of the expression: Point to point

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Point to point

Meaning

A race, usually a horse-race, in a direct line across countryside. The term has also migrated to other areas which involve transit from one specific point to another; for example, direct air transport from one city to another and the 'P2P [Point to Point] Protocol' used in Internet communications.

Origin

point to point'Point to point' horse-races were known originally as steeplechases and these were first run and named in the UK in the 18th century. The earliest known reference to one in print is from the April 1793 edition of The Sporting Magazine, although there are other reports which suggest the practice dates from 1752 and the nature of the quotation suggests that this wasn't the first of such races:

"The Hon. Mr. O'Hea and Captain Magrath ran a steeplechase, near Galloway, in Scotland, lately, -for a bet of fifty guineas, which was won by the latter, after a hard contest. To some of our readers it may perhaps be necessary to say, that this amusement consists of riding o»er hedge and ditch as fast as possible, towards the nearest steeple from the place of starting."

Point to pointChurch steeples were used as the end point of races because they were prominent landmarks to aim for and could be seen over a distance. The races began informally as members of the hunting community kept their horses fit by racing from one steeple to another, over whatever hedges and ditches lay in their path. From the early 19th century steeplechases have been run over prepared tracks, with fences and water-jumps which mimic the natural obstacles. The best-known steeplechase is the annual Grand National, which has been run at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool since 1836. The name 'steeplechase' has been borrowed by both athletics and dog-racing to denote races that involve fences and water-jumps. The use of the term 'hurdle' for the fences used in such races derives from the name of the temporary sheep fences that would have been jumped in the original cross-country races.

The name 'point to point', which clearly alludes to the points of steeples, was coined in the 19th century and was initially synonymous with steeplechase. There is still considerable overlap between the two names although 'point to point' is now usually reserved for races that are run across country and steeplechase usually refers to races run on a track. The Times, March 1875 included the earliest known use of 'point to point' in print when it referred to a "Point to Point Steeple-chase".

Uses of the term 'point to point' which didn't involve horse-racing began in the 1930s. The Telegraph & Telephone Journal of that date used the term to describe radio communication:

"The State wireless services only undertake 'Ship-to-shore' and 'Point-to-point' internal traffic."