Run the Gauntlet – A Risky Situation or Corporal Punishment?

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

To run the gauntlet is an idiomatic expression that refers to navigating a challenging path or facing a sequence of trials or difficulties one must overcome. For example, after this week’s challenges, I felt like I had run the gauntlet to complete all my work before the weekend.  

Idioms, like run the gauntlet, are figurative expressions with meanings that differ from their literal origins. These popular phrases in English are frequently employed in casual speech and text, and mastering their correct usage can enhance your English language skills. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the meaning and origin of the expression run the gauntlet, how it can vary with context, and how to use it within sentences. So keep reading to learn more about this idiom, and you can also test your knowledge with a short quiz at the end. 

Run the Gauntlet – A Risky Situation or Corporal Punishment

What Does the Idiom Run the Gauntlet Mean?

The idiom run the gauntlet typically means to undergo a challenging experience where one must endure a series of obstacles, criticisms, or tests. It often implies a situation in which one is subjected to a barrage of criticism, scrutiny, or physical or emotional challenges from multiple sources.

According to, run the gauntlet means “to be exposed to danger, criticism, or other adversity.” Moreover, Collins Dictionary says, “If you run the gauntlet, you go through an unpleasant experience in which a lot of people criticize or attack you.”

Its use suggests that going through a demanding or trying experience requires strength, determination, and resilience to emerge successfully on the other side.

Run the Gauntlet or Run the Gamut: What’s the Difference?

Run the gamut is occasionally confused with run the gauntlet, but the two have different meanings. 

Run the gamut means experiencing the full scope of something or experiencing the entire range of something. The word gamut also has a musical definition. In medieval musical terms, the gamut is the range of notes on the scale covering nearly three octaves, from bass G to treble E.

As explained above, to run the gauntlet means to suffer punishment or to endure an ordeal or onslaught. 

Variations of the Idiom

Remember, these variations retain the core meaning of facing a series of challenges or obstacles.

  • Run the gauntlet
  • Go through the gauntlet
  • Face the gauntlet
  • Navigate the gauntlet
  • Survive the gauntlet

How Is Run the Gauntlet Commonly Used in Context?

The idiom run the gauntlet is commonly used to describe navigating through a challenging or perilous situation, often involving facing a series of difficulties or obstacles.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the different ways to use it, examples of how it should be placed within a sentence, and tips for using it effectively.

What Are the Different Ways to Use Run the Gauntlet?

Use the expression when you want to emphasize the following scenarios within a sentence:

  • Facing criticism: “He had to run the gauntlet of harsh reviews after the release of his controversial book.” 
  • Enduring a difficult experience: “The marathon was like running the gauntlet of extreme weather conditions.”
  • Navigating a challenging path: “Starting a new business can feel like running the gauntlet of uncertainties and risks.”
  • Overcoming a series of tests or trials: “The apprentice had to run the gauntlet of challenging tasks to prove their skills.”
  • Surviving a dangerous situation: “The daring rescue mission required the team to run the gauntlet of enemy territory.”
  • Dealing with multiple hurdles or challenges: “Juggling work, family, and personal goals often feels like running the gauntlet of daily demands.”

Where Can You Find Examples of Run the Gauntlet?

Examples of the idiom run the gauntlet are found in various sources, including literature, articles, conversations, and media.

Here are some examples of it being used in online publications:

“‘You run the gauntlet when you come to this tournament,’ said U.S. coach Bob Motzko as the Americans bid to repeat ended with a loss to Sweden in the semifinals.” (The Buffalo News)

“Readers’ favorites run the gamut of subjects from tragedy to heartwarming remembrances to shocking news happening in your neighborhoods.” (The Jamestown Post-Journal)

“Yet again another example … if you want to run the gauntlet, take us on, then we will absolutely have a crack.” (The Herald Sun)

What Are Some Tips for Using Run the Gauntlet?

Follow these tips to effectively use run the gauntlet within your own writing and speech.

  • Understand the meaning: Know that the idiom refers to facing a challenging or difficult experience, often involving a series of obstacles or trials.
  • Provide context: When using the idiom, provide enough information or background to ensure others understand the specific situation or journey you are referring to. 
  • Consider the audience: If your audience might not be familiar with the idiom, consider providing a brief explanation.
  • Be mindful of tone: Recognize that using the idiom can convey a sense of difficulty, struggle, or adversity. 
  • Support with examples: If appropriate, provide specific examples or anecdotes to illustrate the challenges faced during the gauntlet. 
  • Avoid overuse: Use it when it adds value to your message and helps convey the intended meaning effectively.

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Run the Gauntlet?

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Run the gauntlet usage trend.

The expression run the gauntlet originates from a literal military practice dating back to the Middle Ages. The term’s etymology is rooted in the Swedish word gatlopp, which translates to lane-course. This practice described a form of military punishment where a soldier was forced to run between two lines of his peers, who would hit him with sticks or ropes.

The term gauntlet, however, has been associated with other forms of punishment over time.

In Edward Hall’s Chronicles of Richard III, written in 1548, the term is used in a different context to indicate a challenge between nobles: “Makynge a proclamacion, that whosoeuer would saie that kynge Richard was not lawefully kynge, he woulde fighte with hym at the vtteraunce, and threwe downe his gauntlet.” In this context, gauntlet refers to a glove thrown down as a challenge, a usage derived from the French word gant, meaning glove.

The first documented usage of the phrase run the gauntlet in its current idiomatic sense appears in Increase Mather’s “The History of King Philip’s War” from 1676: “They stripped them naked, and caused them to run the Gauntlet.”

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Over time, the idiomatic phrase run the gauntlet has stayed true to its origins and is still used in both literal and figurative manners in various scenarios, just as it has been since the 1600s. 

What Are Some Related Terms to Run the Gauntlet?

Practice using the idiom run the gauntlet using related terms to fully understand its placement and use in various contexts. 

Run the Gauntlet – A Risky Situation or Corporal Punishment 3 1


Here are some synonyms for the idiom run the gauntlet that convey a similar meaning of facing challenges or enduring a difficult experience:


Here are some antonyms that convey contrasting meanings of avoiding challenges or experiencing an easy or smooth journey:

  • Bypass obstacles
  • Sidestep adversity
  • Skirt difficulties
  • Take the easy route
  • Smooth sailing

Run the Gauntlet: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

Let’s Review

The idiom run the gauntlet is a powerful expression that conveys the idea of facing a series of challenges or obstacles. It captures the essence of enduring a difficult journey, confronting trials, and emerging stronger on the other side. 

Originating in the 1600s, the expression first meant to undergo a difficult military punishment. The word gauntlet quickly became synonymous with any form of punishment, challenge, or difficulty and is used in the same manner today.