Friday, 19 June 2015

Running the glove

Hi everyone,
Today I'm lodging a complaint. It's a complaint I've had for quite a long time but I've remained silent about it until now.

So about whom am I complaining? Probably just about every English speaker on the planet, with the exception of a few pedants like myself.

Let's get started. Who uses the expression run the gauntlet? Be honest now ...  Right, a few of you.

Well, do you realise that a gauntlet is a form of medieval glove? Gauntlets were made of heavy leather, sometimes plated in steel and were used for attack and defense. The saying to throw down the gauntlet refers directly to throwing your glove on the ground, usually at the feet of your enemy, in the form of a challenge.

You don't - let me just be clear on this - you do not ever run the gauntlet! It is one of the most abused expressions in the English idiomatic language.

There is a history behind its abuse, of course, and I'm about to share it with you in the hope that you never again run a gauntlet.

Back in ancient Britain, there was a custom of punishing military men by stripping them to the waist and forcing them to run between two lines of men who beat and whipped the poor bloke as he ran by. This was called running the gantelope - ah, I can imagine the light coming on in your eyes!

Over time, this was eventually bastardised into gantlope. A bit more time passes and it morphed into gantlet. All good, and then suddenly it goes pear-shaped.

Somewhere, sometime, through misunderstanding or just plain ignorance we started running the gauntlet, and that, according to language history experts, is what happened.

So let that be a lesson to you - you wear a gauntlet, but you run a gantelope, gantlope, or gantlet.

If you're not happy with that but you simply must run something, you can run a gamut. In correct English, a gamut is used to describe the full span of human emotions. For example, you can run a gamut of emotions from happiness to sadness with all the others in between. That's your gamut.

Please, please, please don't ever run a gauntlet again - it's wrong, wrong, wrong! And now that you know, you can join me in squirming with irritation whenever you hear someone say it!

Until next week ... if you do hear someone talking about running the gauntlet ... well, it's probably not polite to point and laugh!

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