The Grammarphobia Blog

Is it “gantlet” or “gauntlet”?

Q: Sometimes I see “gantlet” and sometimes I see “gauntlet.” Which one is correct?

A: The old “gantlet/gauntlet” distinction is rapidly being lost, since dictionaries these days are increasingly regarding them as interchangeable.

“Gantlet” originally came from a Swedish word similar to “lane,” and referred to the parallel lines involved in an old form of military punishment. Someone forced to “run the gantlet” was made to run between parallel lines of his colleagues, who would hit him with clubs or switches as he passed.

A “gauntlet” (French word) was a heavy, armored glove worn by a knight. As a challenge to fight, the knight would toss his glove to the ground (“throw down the gauntlet”). The opponent accepting the challenge was said to “pick up the gauntlet.”

Most dictionaries now accept the spelling “gauntlet” for both of those meanings. There’s still a technical term “gantlet” used in railroading, though.