May 5, 2007

gantlet v. gauntlet

gantlet n.
A form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two
lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim


gauntlet n.
A medieval glove, as of mail or plate, worn by a knight
in armor to protect the hand.

Take up the gauntlet,
  • a. to accept a challenge to fight: "He was always willing to take up the gauntlet for a good cause."
  • to show one's defiance.
  • Also, take up the glove.
Throw down the gauntlet,
  • to challenge.
  • to defy.
Also, throw down the glove.
WordNet 3.0, 2006 by Princeton University.

Usage authority of American English, Brian A. Garner, in his sage, compendious, Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style (2000)[1] gives us the most current, authoritative advice concerning the gantlet-gauntlet debate. You'll note that the some of the sentences from published sources that he cites present a non-standard usage, which he immediately follows with the standard usage, in brackets and introduced by the word "read." Example: "We was [read were] robbed!"

[1]"Excellent. Garner extends the reach of the prescriptive Fowler and the descriptive Merriam-Webster."--William Safire, The New York Times.

Here (with emphasis in bold print added by the editor) is Garner's treatment of the gantlet-gauntlet kerfuffle:
gantlet; gauntlet.

Although the latter is more common in most senses, the former is still preferred in one of them.
One runs the gantlet (= a kind of ordeal or punishment) but throws down the gauntlet (= a glove, to issue a challenge).

The trend, however, is to use gauntlet for all senses. Like many trends, this one is worth resisting: keep gantlet for the ordeal.

E.g.: “They tortured him last year, dragged him through a senseless frat-boy gauntlet [read gantlet] that accomplished nothing.” (Chicago Sun-Times).

And many writers do resist it—e.g:
The streetside culinary
gantlet of hot grease and grills—stands selling everything from tacos to burgers to funnel cakes, pierogis, and pizza—was shuttered, awaiting the evening rush.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Likewise, the word gauntlet is correctly used in the phrase throwing down the gauntlet (= issuing a challenge)—e.g.: “Anyone who passes
her has thrown down the gauntlet” (N. Y. Times)

—Garner Brian A. The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. New York: Oxford. 2000, (313-14).

At the end of yesterday's post on verbicide, I promised a bit of prose, titled “Gantlet: Vulnerable to Verbicide?” As promised:

Gantlet: Vulnerable to Verbicide?
By Bloggin' John

This is the story of contending fates, a story of two English words that share a rime but no synonymy: gantlet, ordeal or punishment”; and gauntlet, “glove.” In 1955 each word enjoyed its own entry reflecting traditional usage (i.e., gantlet=ordeal; gauntlet=glove) in Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition--or W2, as it is known among word mavins.

Now, in a successor to W2—the W3 (2000)gantlet again makes an appearance, but this time denuded of a definition and merely labeled a “variant of gauntlet. Gauntlet carries its traditional definition,“glove," but also accomodates the added definition of “ordeal or punishment.” W2—with its tendency toward prescription in favor of the received tradition of correctness—is still well-regarded (I've got one right here), whereas W3, to this day, carries a reputation that is still wobbling after its noisy introduction in 1963. It touted itself as the initiator of a new paradigm in lexicography: giving focus to the description of words, i.e., explaining how people actually using the language, rather than to prescription, confirmation of how people use the language properly. Thus we have W2 reaffirming that we "run the gantlet," while W3 allows us--with assumed demotic authority—to "run the gauntlet."

Though not yet totally absent from the scene of the American language, gantlet is beginning to make fewer and fewer appearances. In its place, struts
the Usurper, gauntlet. Many logophiles who appreciate the difference between these contending words now wince every time an EyeWitnessNews TV reporter delivers another errant gauntlet: “As the embattled Mayor walked down the stairs of City Hall today, she passed through a raucous gauntlet [read gantlet] of reporters asking whether she had thrown down the gauntlet before the embittered Assembly.”

Why is gantlet fading away? Hard to say. Perhaps it’s the sound of the word: "It sounds so much like gautlet, say the verbally torpid among us. “Why make a distinction between the two words? Both words deal with imminent or engaged conflict. And gauntlet sounds the better of the two, with its 'au' sound bringing echos of "pow" or "growl" to a sentence, while gantlet floats along on the higher-pitched 'an' sound, as in namby-pamby."

Who knows why gantlet is dying? Other than to note indifference among too many people who should care more about the language: parents, teachers, employers, journalists, and lexicographers.

If you want to master the standard usage of gantlet, start with memorizing--as you would a mantra--Brian Garner’s|[1]
compact summary:

“One runs the gantlet (= an ordeal) but
throws down the gauntlet (= a glove).”

Or try this:

[1] Brian A. Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style (2000):

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