June 21, 1999
John Hulslander wrote:
A coworker and I are in the middle of a debate on the whether one "runs the gambit" or one "runs the gauntlet." Or are both phrases correct?
None of the above.
Well, that's not true, exactly. First of all the phrase run the gambit doesn't exist, so let's throw that out right now, and the answer also depends on what phrase you have in mind.
Of the remaining options, the important word is gauntlet. This spelling is used for two unrelated words in English. The first gauntlet refers to a glove worn as a part of a suit of armor. It comes from Middle French, from a diminutive of the word gant 'a glove'.
The other gauntlet is probably the one you have in mind. It means 'a military punishment in which an offender is made to run between two rows of men who strike at him with switches or weapons as he passes'. This is chiefly used in the figurative expression to run the gauntlet meaning 'to suffer severe criticism or tribulation'.
This gauntlet is a variant of the obsolete eighteenth-century word gantlope, from Swedish, meaning 'a running course'.
The spelling gantlet exists as a variant of both of these gauntlets (in American English--British English does not use gantlet). Though it is usually criticized in the 'glove' sense, gantlet was once preferred for the 'course of criticism or punishment' sense, and some conservative usage writers still recommend that run the gantlet be preferred over run the gauntlet. If you trust these writers, then run the gauntlet is incorrect. In reality, run the gauntlet is and has always been more common than run the gantlet, and there's no good reason, etymological or otherwise, to prefer gantlet.
Finally, since you didn't specify the sense of the phrase you have in mind, I should mention the phrase run the gamut, already discussed, which is a possibility.
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