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Beaten to the punch

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on February 16, 2010 at 22:12

In Reply to: Beaten to the punch posted by N.Meaux on February 14, 2010 at 23:15:

: Beaten to the punch:

: I've heard it always used and people say it's for boxing, but my grandfather and great grandfather have always told me it was first used in factories, when they were punching out. Someone that "beat you to the punch" was already off and doing something else whil you were still at work. Which seems more likely?

I don't think there's any possible doubt. All the dictionaries I have found ascribe it to boxing; it's a term routinely used in boxing; and it makes mor sense as a boxing metaphor. For a boxer to beat his opponent to the punch (i.e. to get his punch in first) is an important achievement for him, and confers a significant advantage over the other guy. But, given that the whole point of card-punching is to ensure that workers get paid only for the exact hours worked, if a worker punches out before another worker, they get no advantage - unless they started earlier, it only means they get less pay!

I don't say the phrase might never have been used in a factory. Once it existed as a known phrase, one worker who got to the time-clock ahead of the other might well say as a joke, "Beat you to the punch, ha, ha!" Perhaps your father and grandfather heard that joke made, and took it for the original usage. (VSD)