Every workday I leave my house in Northeast Baltimore and drive the gauntlet through the Mount Vernon neighborhood, traffic-clogged downtown, and South Baltimore until I reach The Sun’s offices at Port Covington.
Yes, I said “gauntlet.” *
For years I dutifully maintained that a gauntlet is a glove, the gage a knight flings down as a challenge, and thus figuratively a challenge, while a gantlet is a flogging ordeal, the kind in which one runs between two lines of people wielding clubs, thus figuratively an ordeal.
One seeks to be precise. But there are two problems.
The first, as Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English explains, is that gauntlet and gantlet are merely spelling variants, not etymologically distinct words. The well-meaning nineteenth-century attempt to tidy up the language by making them two distinct words (which the Associated Press Stylebook continues to this day) was misguided.
The second is that it didn’t work. In the current edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan A. Garner concedes that, while he had previously maintained the gauntlet/gantlet distinction, it was pointless. Corpus data indicates that run the gauntlet outpaces run the gantlet by 11-1, “and has consistently done so since about 1800.”
The issue for the writer or editor comes down to which audience one seeks to satisfy. If I write “driving the gauntlet,” I can be confident that my entire readership will understand what I mean, though some of the dwindling members of the self-appointed Elect will frown at what they think is a solecism. If I write “driving the gantlet,” I will leave the bulk of my readers bemused, while the members of the Elect will nod sagely and murmur, “Good lad.”
Yes, I said “gauntlet.”
* Meaning drivers who abruptly switch lanes without signaling, people attempting to shoehorn their unwieldy SUVs and vans into parking spaces that will not accommodate them, drivers texting long after the light has turned green, people on scooters and bicycles weaving in and out of traffic, crews engaged in tearing up every street in Baltimore, pedestrians who amble into view while absorbed in their cellphones, the usual rabble.