What's the difference between “gauntlet” and “gantlet?” First of all, they’re pronounced the same, so that doesn’t help. Secondly, according to Bryan A. Garner in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” “the trend ... is to use ‘gauntlet’ for all senses.”

Once again, I failed to finish my Christmas cards on time. And I’m way behind on other mail and e-mail, as well.

For example, about two weeks ago, one of our reporters asked about the difference between “gauntlet” and “gantlet.” I thought others might be interested as well.

First of all, they’re pronounced the same, so that doesn’t help. Secondly, according to Bryan A. Garner in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” “the trend ... is to use ‘gauntlet’ for all senses.” But he contends that the differences are worth preserving, and I agree.

Originally, a “gauntlet” was a type of glove worn by knights in armor. You don’t see many suits of armor anymore, but we have kept the gloves on in two idiomatic phrases:

“Throw down the gauntlet” means “to challenge, as in combat.” However, “take up the gauntlet” is “to accept a challenge” or “to undertake the defense of a person, etc.”

The word traces all the way back to a Frankish term for “a mitten,” which in Old French became “gant,” for “glove.” So it has had a consistent history as a hand covering.

On the other hand, the original “gantlet” was “a military punishment;” specifically, one in which “the offender had to run between two rows of men who struck him with clubs, etc., as he passed.”

In general, a gantlet is “a series of troubles or difficulties.” It also appears in a fairly common idiomatic phrase, “run the gantlet,” meaning “to be punished by means of the gantlet” or “to proceed while under attack from both sides, as by criticism.”

This word, earlier spelled “gantlope,” evolved from the Swedish “gatlopp” — “a running down a lane” — combining, logically enough, “gata” (“lane”) and “lopp” (“a run”).

Webster’s also acknowledges that “gantlet” is “now spelled equally ‘gauntlet’” in its principal senses. For example, it was used in Clint Eastwood’s film “The Gauntlet,” released in December 1977 — just in time for Christmas?

But both words have had long runs along different paths, and I think they have earned their right to play different roles.

As for telling them apart, how about associating the five letters of “gaunt-” with the five fingers of a glove? Or maybe not.

Just don’t confuse either of them with “gamut,” as in the phrase “run the gamut.”

“Gamut” is a musical term with several meanings. It comes from the Medieval Latin “gamma ut,” whose roots are in the musical scale devised by Guido d’Arezzo, an Italian monk and musical theoretician who lived from the late 10th century to the middle of the 11th century.

For our purposes here, “gamut” means “the entire range or extent, as of emotions.” So to “run the gamut” of something is to experience the whole range of it.

I imagine, for example, in the military ordeal described earlier, the person being punished would have to run the gamut of the gantlet.

Contact Barry Wood at bwood@rrstar.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/. 

GateHouse News Service