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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

The glove comes off

The Baltimore Sun

Earlier today I deliberately allowed a “ran the gauntlet” slide through into print.

This was in direct defiance of the Associated Press Stylebook, which has insisted since Joseph Pulitzer was in short pants that gauntlet is a glove and to “throw down the gauntlet” is to issue a challenge, and that a gantlet is a flogging ordeal, so that some wretch must “run the gantlet.”

Would that the world were so simple and clear-cut. But Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage points out, at some length, that as far back as the seventeenth century English writers substituted gauntlet for gantlope, the military punishment in which a man is made to run between two rows of men wielding clubs. Gantlope, MWDEU explains, derives from the Swedish gatlopp.  It appears that the gauntlet/gantlet distinctions dates from nineteenth-century tidying-up efforts in the United States—British usage has never recognized a distinction, and gantlet  is long out of use in Blighty.

Some of you will object that MWDEU, like those fuzzy-headed lexicographers, is notoriously permissive. But Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern English Usage (the fourth edition) repudiates the distinction he advocated in previous editions, saying now that the trend is to use gauntlet for both the glove and the ordeal. He explains that “empirical evidence now available shows that run the gauntlet outdistances run the gantlet by an 11-to-1 margin and has consistently done so since about 1800. The ‘battle’ was lost before it began.”

He now rates run the gauntlet as fully standard usage.

I throw down this glove before the Associated Press Stylebook.

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