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If the gauntlet fits, don’t bother with the gantlet

We’d like to stress that That’s What They Say is a safe place for word enthusiasts to confide language pet peeves without fear of ridicule or judgment. 

When host Rina Miller worried her frustration with people who say “gantlet” instead of “gauntlet” made her a Miss Snooty Pants, we assured her, she’s not. 

In fact, when it comes to “gauntlet” vs. “gantlet,” Miller isn’t alone.


Back in December, a New Yorker cartoon showed a man and woman standing at the top of a crowded stairway. One is saying to the other, “It’s your turn. I’ve run out of pleasantries for the gauntlet.”

A reader wrote in, complaining “gantlet” should’ve been used instead. New Yorker cartoons editor Bob Mankoff responded in a follow-up piece.

Mankoff said both spellings are standard. Since this is a cartoon we’re talking about, the writer opted for the more commonly used “u” spelling.

University of Michigan English Professor Ann Curzan decided to dig deeper. She found that when it comes to “gauntlet,” there are actually two different types.

“You have the gauntlet that we’re talking about in that cartoon which is a difficult passage you have to get through or a difficult experience,” Curzan said. 

This meaning shows up when a Swedish compound word comes into English in the 17th century as “gantlope” and that’s where things get messy.

“‘Gantlope’ gets confused with the word ‘gauntlet’ meaning the glove, and gets respelled,” said Curzan. “While we can argue whether or not there’s a ‘u’ in ‘gauntlet,’ that isn’t what the original word was.”

We can and will argue about the spelling. Stand back, we’re throwing down the gauntlet!  

Or should it be gantlet?

“The glove [meaning] is spelled both ways,” Curzan said. “Even in the earliest spellings, it’s spelled with a ‘u’ as well as without a ‘u.’”

Looks like we’ve run the gamut with “gauntlet.”

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.