‘Gantlet’ or ‘Gauntlet’?

Here’s the problem: Some American style guides recommend “gantlet” in the phrase most of us would say or write “run the gauntlet.”

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #785
The Quick And Dirty

Unless you're following a style guide that requires you to use "run the gantlet" (such as the AP Stylebook), use "run the gauntlet."

Some people say “gauntlet” and “gantlet" have different origins and that a gauntlet is only a glove and a gantlet is only a path lined with attackers. Therefore, you throw down the gauntlet (a glove) to challenge someone and pick up the gauntlet (again, a glove) to accept a challenge, but you run the gantlet (a course or path).

‘Gantlet’ and ‘gauntlet’ are spelling variants

But Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage dug into the etymology and found that the distinction isn’t all that clear. Although the two words are usually pronounced differently today, early on “gantlet” and “gauntlet” were simply two different ways of spelling the same word. 

The Merriam-Webster editors found no reason “gantlet” emerged as the preferred spelling in the United States in the phrase “run the gantlet,” but they note that it never happened in British English. And when I checked, I found that the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t even include an entry for “gantlet.” "Gantlet" only appears as a spelling variant in the “gauntlet” entry.

British English never made a distinction between ‘gantlet’ and ‘gauntlet.’

The Merriam-Webster editors are emphatic, addressing the idea that the two words have separate origins by stating, “This argument is mistaken,” and that the words are “spelling variants, pure and simple.”

In fact, the editors even suggest it might be their fault that the two versions took on different meanings in American English because one of the early Merriam-Webster dictionaries made the distinction for reasons they now can’t pinpoint and that they regret.

AP Stylebook uses ‘run the gantlet’ (for now)

Unfortunately, the Associated Press Stylebook still supports using “gauntlet” to mean a glove and “gantlet” to describe the path you run down while being accosted by enemies. They want you to use the phrase “run the gantlet” instead of “run the gauntlet.” 

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However, in the past, the AP editors have said they bow to common usage (for example, when they changed their recommendation from "e-mail" to "email"). I don’t expect them to uphold the “gantlet/gauntlet” distinction much longer. 

Other major style guides use ‘run the gauntlet’

Garner’s Modern English Usage reported that “run the gauntlet” was 11 times more common than “run the gantlet” and “universally accepted” when the newest edition of that book was published 2016. 

Also, I’ve seen reports from at least two large newspapers saying they get mail chiding them when they print “run the gantlet” because readers think it’s wrong. 

Other sources have already come around. For example, the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style half-heartedly upheld the distinction, but the most recent 17th edition says it’s fine to write “run the gauntlet” and concludes that “Efforts to separate the terms have run their grueling course.”

What should you do?

Unless you’re following a style guide that requires “gantlet,” use “gauntlet” when you’re talking about running down a lane while being attacked. 

If you use “gantlet,” you run a real risk of being viewed as incorrect or at least of being precious (in the sense of trying too hard to seem refined, not in the sense of being much loved).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.