JS Tip 495: Gambit, Gamut, Gantlet, and Gauntlet

From the Writing Workshops: Gambit, Gamut, Gantlet, and Gauntlet

We promised to clarify gambit, gamut, gantlet, and gauntlet

Our good friend Troy Dahlgren of NAES prompted the discussion.

The four words sound alike (that may be the problem), but they differ in meaning: 

  • gambit is an opener: In chess (“Pawn to Queen four.”), in conversation (“Where are you originally from?”), or in business (“Their low-bid gambit failed.”).

    gamut is a range of offerings: “She reviewed the gamut of benefits, from child care to medical plans.” 

    gantlet is a trial by ordeal. A person accused of a crime would pass through two lines of attackers. If the person survived, he or she was considered not guilty: “This will be tough. We’ll be running the gantlet with this one.” 

    gauntlet is a glove (usually an armored glove). It also means a challenge. If a knight felt insulted, he would throw his armored glove to the ground to challenge the other person to a duel. “If they want to take us on, we’ll throw down the gauntlet and respond.”

    The American Heritage Dictionary says the spellings and the meanings of gantlet and gauntlet have become so mixed that they’re interchangeable. Gantlet is fading; gauntlet seems preferred.


How’s that? 

Mark Brooks