Gantlet vs. gauntlet

Gantlet was the original spelling of the word referring to a form of punishment in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines and beat a person forced to run between them. It came from the earlier English word gantlope, which in turn comes from the Swedish gatlopp.1 Gauntlet is an alternative spelling of gantlet, but it also has several definitions of its own, mostly related to gloves.

Gantlet was the preferred spelling in early use of the phrase run the gauntlet—meaning to suffer punishment by gantlet or to endure an onslaught or ordeal—but gauntlet prevailed by the 18th century. Today, most writers use gauntlet, though gantlet, which is especially common in American English, is not incorrect.

The phrase throw down the gauntlet, meaning to issue or accept a challenge, uses gauntlet in its glove-related sense. It derives from the practice among medieval knights of challenging each other to duels by throwing down their gauntlets. So gantlet does not work as an alternative spelling here.


1. Chambers Dictionary of Etymologyir?t=grammarist 20&l=as2&o=1&a=0550142304

16 thoughts on “Gantlet vs. gauntlet”

  1. I can find no confirmation of your definition of gantlet. Gantlet has no definition that I have been able to find other than as a place where railroad tracks overlap in order to pass through confined spaces and as a variant of gauntlet. Webster’s and every other dictionary I have referred to confirm this. They make no reference to the definitions you assign to gantlet. What is your source for this assertion?

    • Thank you for calling out attention to this questionable post. The original post was clearly given short shrift, and while we don’t dispute that “gantlet” is the original spelling in “run the gantlet,” to say that “run the gauntlet” is incorrect is obviously wrong. So we’ve removed that, and we’ve updated the post with some basic placeholder text for now. We will do more research, add some references, and flesh out the post shortly.

      P.S. And since we seem to be getting a lot of visitors to this post today–if you’re reading this, feel free to let us know what you think so we can update this post properly.

  2. I’m glad I checked in here. I was ready to lambaste The Washington Times for using
    ‘gantlet’ as a misspelled word. Thanks, Grammarist.

  3. Like tillthen, I was about to herald a Wall Street Journal headline as a new sign of the grammar apocalypse. Glad I checked here first. Thanks, Grammarist!

  4. What the heck?

    “Gauntlet” is NOT “an alternate spelling” of “gantlet.” They are two completely different things. A “gauntlet” is, and always has been” a type of glove. In medieval times, it was a chain mail glove.

    The confusion over the two similar-sounding words evolved from the medieval expression “throwing down the gauntlet” which meant to issue a challenge vs. “running the gantlet”, which has already been explained.

    Unfortunately, when a word is used incorrectly for a long enough time, many dictionaries will legitimize it. That’s why my senior college professor banned dictionaries from his classroom. He pointed out dozens of misspelling and erroneous definitions in Webster’s including its claim that the words ‘ensure’, ‘insure’ and ‘assure’ were synonyms, even thought they have distinctly different meanings.

    Maybe I should start by own grammar website. ;)

    • That’s a good idea. We try to just cover the language as it is used by English speakers, and we purposefully avoid saying different ways of using the language are right or wrong, even where general usage goes against logic or etymology. There are plenty of other websites where people can find more prescriptive answers to their questions. For now, we’re not interested in being just another one of those.

      • Thank you for the reply. Please don’t think my intent was to disparage your site in any way.

        I have a PhD. in Linguistics and English Semantics. That’s like a license to be a grammar Nazi and a pain in the rear on the internet…but not good for much else. ;)

        Oh, and S.I. Hayakawa was like a god to me.

    • “Gauntlet” IS an alternative spelling of gantlet, if by “alternative spelling” one means that enough people have misspelled the word that it has become too tiring to correct their mistake. Perhaps we can look forward to the day that “stoopid” is an alternative spelling of stupid.

      Keep the faith!

      • Exactly! :)
        Another such misspelling that has become so oft-used that some dictionaries now show it is “barbeque” which, if it was a genuine word, would be pronounced “barbeck.”

        • Ignorance has always been A driving force behind the evolution of language and I ain’t see nuthin’ ta fuss bout, nohow. Language is adaptive, and fully capable of functioning with multiple spellings of gauntlet, whether as a result of coherent etymological function, or the misspellings of half-brained backwater hack-bloggers.

          At the risk of undermining my argument with rash ad-hom dart throwing, I’ll just passively (read: underhandedly) suggest that you might be doing more damage to the English language – by way of repulsion – through haughty “grammar-nazi-ing” than any of the gauntlet/gantlet-misusers who abuse you of their ignorance.

  5. Just checked to make sure I was right on gantlet, and will now bookmark your site.

    I write fiction, and am often torn between using the correct word and the commonly-used one, since it’s not my job to confuse the reader yet don’t wish to dumb down the text. In regard to simplified spelling, though, I regular use it in dialog—for instance cuz instead of ’cause for because.

  6. Speaking of getting tired of correcting spelling…I commented that someone’s use of supercede should be supersede “the only sed word in the english language”. Dozens of replies descended upon me that either spelling was correct. Webster confirmed that since the wrong way was the most used way…it was now an OK spelling. Sigh.


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