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):

May 3, 2007

expatiate and expostulate

expatiate v. 1655
To speak or write at some length; to enlarge; to be copious in description or discussion.
Often used with on or upon.

ETY: [(ex- ) + spatir to walk about. The earliest sense (now rare and literary) of expatiate:To walk about at large. 1876.]

  • "Ancient orators used to expatiate in praise of their country." 1721
  • "The remarkable deficiency of our recent literature..has constantly tempted me to expatiate." 1850 --OED Online
We turn now from the "expansive" expatiate to the "earnest" expostulate.


expostulate v. 1574
To make friendly remonstrances or representations for the purpose of reprehension or dissuasion; to reason or remonstrate in a friendly manner with (a person), about, for, on, or upon (a thing).

[Latin ex- + postulre, to demand]

  • I haue great cause to expostulate with you for this your vnchristian..and most vniust handling of me.—1574
  • He'll give me leave to expostulate..about his Conduct.—1699
  • I expostulated for the Non-performance of the late Conditions.—1726
  • The Count followed to expostulate and entreat.—1794
  • He expostulated with him on the impropriety of such conduct to strangers.—1856

expostulating verbal and noun 1625
expostulatingly adverb 188
  • Men, women, and children rushed past the excited and expostulating officers. 1883 Harper's Mag.—1885
  • She..laid her hand on one of his expostulatingly.—1883
DISCRIMINATING BETWEEN expatiate AND expostulate

John L. Dusseaue, author of a compendious word-book titled Bugabooa, Chimeras, & Achielles' Heels: 10,001 Difficult Words & How to Use Them, offers the following discernments about the two words we are considering:

expatiate versus expostulate:

The first word
means to enlarge on in discussion or in writing or to be copious in detail and is often followed by on or upon. "Those who expatiate with delight on the wonders of creation" (Chalmers)

The second word means to argue earnestly or vehemently with someone about something he intends to do or has done. "Stay not to expostulate, make speed." (Shakespeare)
--John L. Dusseau. Bugaboos, Chimeras, & Achilles' Heel. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1993.

Every College English major at one time or another studies
the short poem "Expostulation and Reply" by the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Historically, Wordsworth and the other Romantics (Shelly, Byron, Keats, and Coleridge) follow immediately upon and in reaction against the Neoclassical poets (Dryden and Pope) . Neoclassical poets prized inductive and deductive reason as they pursued an intellectual life dominated by reading classic writers of the past, such as Plato, Sophocles and Aristotle.

The Romantics, contrariwise, arrived at what they called transcendental truth through the process of intuition, the exercise of the imagination, and trust in the power of nature to instruct an open heart.

"Expostulation and Reply" begins with the bookish Matthew (representing neo-classicism) rendering an expostulation
against the seated William for his passive behavior, challenging him with questions such as "Why, William, sit you thus alone, / And dream your time away?" and "Where are your books?" He then chides William to be --"Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed / From dead men to their kind." In other words, "Get up, Will, and read read your Aristotle!"

William (representing romanticism) counters Matthew's expostulation with the reply
"we can feed this mind of ours / In a wise passiveness." And thus--ipsi dixit and with no little petitio principii—the argument is over—in Wordsworth's view— with the Romantic sensibility prevailing—"[a]gainst or with our will" as the truest guide in live's signal purpose, to "still be seeking."

There is an amusing, utterly harmless, but inescapable irony of situation here: Wordsworth discounts the value of books via the poem-on-paper, the essential constituent of his very target, books.

Expostulation and Reply

By William Wordsworth

"Why, William, on that old grey stone,
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away?

"Where are your books?--that light bequeathed
To Beings else forlorn and blind!
Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed
From dead men to their kind.

"You look round on your Mother Earth,
As if she for no purpose bore you;
As if you were her first-born birth,
And none had lived before you!"

One morning thus, by Esthwaite lake,
When life was sweet, I knew not why,
To me my good friend Matthew spake,
And thus I made reply:

"The eye--it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
Against or with our will.

"Nor less I deem that there are Powers
Which of themselves our minds impress;
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.

"Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?

"--Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away."

May 2, 2007


1. a tourist who is visiting sights of interest [syn: sightseer]
2. a person who stares inquisitively

1. strain to watch; stare curiously;

"The cars slowed down and the drivers rubbernecked after the accident."
--WordNet 3.0, 2006 by Princeton University.


Put another way,
rubberneck is a collocation that asks us to imagine a human head atop
a rubberized neck that's able to stretch, crane, turn, twist, (loop ?) and swerve with ease, all in service of the brain and its interfacing portals (the eyes) to focus and dwell upon an ongoing event. In short, rubbernecking is gauking; staring intently; or—if we make an anatomical shift upward—eyeballing (1901).

ƒ. OED Online

I stood around there on one foot kind o' rubber-neckin to find an openin.--1896

Recent slang has coined the word ‘rubber~neck’ for a gaping fellow in the street, who turns his head this way and that.-1902

Here's a great sight going on that hundreds of rubber-necking tourists would pay anything to see.--1927

The long, vaulted central hall..was crowded with chairs for invited guests with probably five times as many more people standing behind them. Londoners love to rubberneck on tiptoe.--

Wisconsin motorists may never see a purple cow, but they are rubbernecking at an enormous piebald blue one emblazoned on Farmer Hilbert Schneider's 75-year-old barn at Johnson Creek.--

Large rubberneck buses from travel agencies drive through, packed with sightseers from various States of the Union.--1949 Chicago Daily News 13 Aug. 5/6

Early 20th Century Brits, loath bend knee or neck before Americans to borrow a term, especially the crude rubberneck wagon, to describe the newest form of tourist transport, sidled, instead, over to the French, who offered char-a-banc "a carriage with benches, so called because the original horse-drawn charabancs in France had rows of crosswise seats looking forward." The English eschewed rubberneck wagon embracing char-a-banc.

A useful book to peer into for the early history of "rubber-neck" is H. L. Mencken's
The American Language (1937), a land-mark record of the birth and growth of
English in America. The book is filled with examples of American slang, with all of its
sophistication, wit, and social significance. Note the brazen confidence Mencken shows in himself and in his native language in the title of the book: The American Language. There was no room in Mencken's vocabulary for such deferential epithets "American English" or "English in America"

Editors at note that The American Language "was written to clarify the discrepancies between British and American English and to define the distinguishing characteristics of American English. Mencken’s groundbreaking study was undoubtedly the most scientific linguistic work on the American language to date."

We might note in passing the praise Mencken has earned as a stylist from past and present critics (this writer included). The eminent 20th Century American critic and essayist Joseph Wood Krutch--who critiqued movies for The Nation; wrote thirty-five books, including biographies of Samuel Johnson and Henry David Thoreau; and taught at Columbia University for sixteen years--referred to Mencken as "the greatest prose stylist of the twentieth century."
SLANG TERM, rubberneck:

Mencken observes that rubber-neck entered the American Language in a wave of American compound words invented during the late 1800s and the early 1900s:

"The old American faculty [read skill] for making picturesque compounds shows no sign of abating today [1937]. Many of them come in on the attitude of slang, e.g., road-louse, glad-hand, hop-head, rahrah-boy, coffin-nail (cigarette), hot-spot, bug-house, hang-out, and pin-head, and never attain to polite usage. . . . [B]ut others are taken into the language almost as soon as they appear, e.g., college-widow, (1887), sky-scraper and rubberneck* (c. 1890), loan-shark (c. 1900), highbrow and low brow (c. 1905), hot-dog (1905), joy-ride (1908), love-nest, and jay-walker (c 1890), and brain-trust (1932)".
prose stylist of the twentieth century."
Mencken tells us that the word glowed with no little cachet according to the Scottish philologian, Professor J. Y. T. Greig, who praised rubbernecking in Breaking Priscian's Head (1929) as "one of best words ever coined" (186).--H. L. Mencken. The American Language. New York: Knopf, 1937.

eventually took a turn (yes, a pun) toward rock 'n' roll. According to reviewer Mike Davis King in a piece written for, "'Rubberneckin' was the hit song from Elvis Presley's last feature film, 'Change Of Habit.' As the B-side of 'Don't Cry Daddy,' it reached #11 on the charts way back in December of 1969." The song was remixed in 2003 and has enjoyed renewed popularity, both as song-qua-song and as a popular cell-phone ringtone. Here are the lyrics of "Rubbernecking," made famous by a rocker known equally for his singing but also for his on-stage "rubber-leggin'."

Stop, look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
If your
rubberneckin' baby
well that's all right with me
Stop, look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
It's called
rubberneckin' baby
but that's all right with me
Some people say I'm wasting time
but they don't really know
I like what I see I see what I like
it gives me such a glow
First thing in the morning, last thing at night
I look, stare everywhere and see everything insight
Stop, look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
If your
rubberneckin' baby
well that's all right with me
Some people say I'm wasting time
but they don't really know
I like what I see I see what I like
yer, it gives me such a glow
Sittin' on the back porch all by myself
Along came Mary Jane and I'm with somebody else
Stop, look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
If your
rubberneckin' baby
well that's all right with me
Stop, look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
It's called
rubberneckin' baby
but that's all right with me
Stop look and listen baby
that's my philosophy
yes it is now

The following may be a bit of a stretch, but rocker Leon Russell uses the catch phrase "rubber neck," not precisely in the sense that we have been considering the solo word "rubberneck" but close enough for my sensibilities.

In The All-Music Guide to Rock (1995), Rick Clark, comments that Leon Russell's third album "Carney" (1973) became Russell's highest charting album with the aid of the oddball #11 hit "Tightrope," which includes a line aptly perceived as "oddball"— "I'm falling / Like a rubber neck giraffe."

Leon Russell

I'm up on the tightrope , one sides hate and one is hope
It's a circus game with you and me.
I'm up on the tightwire , linked by life and the funeral pyre
But the tophat on my head is all you see.

And the wire seems to be the only place for me
A comedy of errors and I'm falling
Like a rubber neck giraffe, you look into my past
Well, baby you're just to blind to see.

I'm up in the spotlight, oh does it feel right
The altitude seems to really get to me.
I'm up on the tightwire linked by life and the funeral pyre
Putting on a show for you to see.
Copyright 1972 by Skyhill Publishing Co.


Finally, rubbernecking is not limited to the ambits of sightseeing and rock 'n' roll. We are now talking about a much more sober signification of the term as we look at how rubbernecking can precipitate roadway accidents.

Following are the conclusions reached in a study made for The Implementation Research Center of the U.S. DOT University Transportation Center, titled

Although the modeling of incident traffic in the same direction is important, it deals with only half of the traffic problem. Accidents also have an impact on the opposite direction of traffic. Even though there are no lane blockages in the opposite direction of an accident, there are reasons to believe that an impact exists on traffic. This impact is due to rubbernecking. According to the Webster Dictionary “rubbernecking” means to look about, stare, or listen with exaggerated curiosity. Individuals driving in the opposite direction of an accident are often distracted by the incident. It is the curiosity of the event that leads to distraction, and then causes a reduction in vehicle speeds. This reduction in vehicle speeds begins to create congestion. Although a significant part of rubbernecking is attributed to various human factors, there are other factors such as presence of barriers that influence the form of rubbernecking.
It is also necessary to investigate the role of human factor on rubbernecking. As indicated in the analysis of this study, motorists in peak period tended to create less rubbernecking than in other periods. It seems that human factors were playing roles in the causes of rubbernecking impacts. By understanding the impact of human factors, the rubbernecking issue may be better addressed.--Dr. Hualiang (Harry) Teng Jonathan P. Masinick Principal Investigators Final report of ITS Center project: Rubbernecking impact of incidents A Research Project Report For the National ITS Implementation Research Center, A U.S. DOT University Transportation Center (ImpactofRubbernecking.htm)

Madonna with
the Long Neck

Admirers rubberneck
Madonna and Child.