gawnt-let • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A military punishment in which a man is stripped to the waist and made run between two lines of other men who strike him with sticks or whips. 2. The leather glove covered with armor that usually accompanies a suit of armor.
Notes: Today we are offering our pre-spring sale of two words in the guise of one. This word is (or these words are) now rarely used outside two phrases: 'to run the gauntlet', meaning "to survive a lot of obstacles", and 'to throw down the gauntlet' meaning "to challenge". But how can you run something that you can also throw down? Today's Word History contains the answer.
In Play: Because we have survived the Age of Chivalry, when the two meanings of today's Good Word could be used literally, this word is now used only figuratively: "Before she reached her position in management, Marilyn had to run the usual gauntlet of male chauvinist taunts and jibes." If Marilyn made it to the top of a US corporation, she probably threw down the gauntlet before a few of those good old boys, too.
Word History: In the sense of "a glove", today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French gantlet "a little glove", diminutive of gant "glove". By the early 15th century the U had already crept in and this word was spelled gauntlette for a short while, following the French spelling of its diminutives. The other sense of today's word comes from another word, originally gantlope, a word borrowed from Swedish gatlopp "gauntlet", the equivalent of German Gassenlauf "alley run". The Swedish word is a compound made up of gata "lane" + lopp "course". The extraneous N had crept into the spelling of this word by the middle of the 17th century under the influence of the other word, making their spelling identical. (Today we thank Flora Podratz for throwing down the gauntlet and challenging us to explain the two meanings of this mysterious Good Word.)
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