Gloves come off over headline’s use of ‘gantlet’
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Readers have thrown down the gauntlet over the use of “gantlet” in the headline on Tom Curwen’s Column One article about the torment of Seth Walsh.
These readers are convinced that the headline, “A gay teenager’s daily gantlet,” should have read “gauntlet.”
However, the headline is correct.
The Times’ style guide explains the difference between the two words:
A “gantlet” is a flogging ordeal, literally or figuratively. A person may run a gantlet. A “gauntlet” is a glove. To throw down the gauntlet means to issue a challenge. To take up the gauntlet means to accept a challenge.
Grammarian Patricia T. O’Conner gives a fuller explanation on her Grammarphobia blog:
“Gantlet” originally came from a Swedish word similar to “lane,” and referred to the parallel lines involved in an old form of military punishment. Someone forced to “run the gantlet” was made to run between parallel lines of his colleagues, who would hit him with clubs or switches as he passed.
A “gauntlet” (French word) was a heavy, armored glove worn by a knight. As a challenge to fight, the knight would toss his glove to the ground (“throw down the gauntlet”). The opponent accepting the challenge was said to “pick up the gauntlet.”
O’Conner also noted, as did one reader, that there is a separate definition of ‘gantlet’ in railroad terminology.
Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees The Times’ copy desks, was happy to discuss the headline. “First, even when we disagree, we’re grateful to have such passionate word people among our readers; they keep us on our toes,’ he said. ‘We believe it best to stick with the distinctions, and two spellings, called for by our stylebook. Had we used ‘gauntlet’ in this case, I know we would have heard from equally passionate readers about that choice.
“We would hate to retire a perfectly fine word -- one that in this case was just right for the occasion -- but we may have to think twice about using ‘gantlet’ in the future, at least in headlines.”
The Chicago Tribune faced a similar outcry from readers when it used ‘gantlet’ in a headline last year.
USC and UCLA fans may find it easy to remember that “gauntlet” is a glove. The schools’ athletic programs competed against each other in the last several years for the Lexus Gauntlet trophy -- a pewter-gilded glove.
Columbia Journalism Review: Gantlet/Gauntlet; Stanch/Staunch -- It all depends on ‘U’
You Don’t Say: Tossing the glove