Professional Style

Gantlet vs. Gauntlet

June 2010
Spot the Error

The fireman felt as if he were running the gauntlet as he dodged flames and falling timber to reach the trapped child.

Hmm. Do we trust the dictionary or not? Mr. Merriam Webster Man will tell you that gauntlet and gantlet are simply different spellings of the same word (like color and colour). But many style editors disagree with him. They make the following distinction:

  • Gauntlet – A protective glove that, when thrown to the ground, signifies a challenge. (Bobby Riggs publicly threw down the gauntlet when he proclaimed that men were better athletes than women.)
  • Gantlet – An ordeal or punishment; literally, a form of military punishment in which a person runs between two rows of men who beat him with clubs as he passes by. (The riot turned the once peaceful street into a gantlet of gunfire.)

Whenever there’s a discrepancy between a dictionary and a stylebook, follow the guidance of the stylebook. (My article titled “The Truth About Dictionaries: Making Words Mean Whatever You Want Them to Mean” tells you why.) In keeping with that advice, the “fireman” sentence above requires gantlet, not gauntlet.

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