Running the Gauntlet

This morning I heard an NPR reporter talking about the U.S. government’s practice of gathering data from private emails and other computer sources. He said that access to such information is limited to “qualified analysts” who can demonstrate a compelling need for the information. Then he remarked on “the legal gauntlet” analysts must “run through” in order to gain that access.

The reporter added an unnecessary through to the expression to run the gauntlet.

A person runs the gauntlet.

A person does not “run through the gauntlet.”

To run the gauntlet

Man being forced to run the gauntlet

Now used only figuratively, the expression originally referred to a form of military or naval punishment in which the offender, stripped to the waist, was forced to run between two rows of men who struck at him with a stick or a knotted rope.

The expression’s earliest English form was “to run the gantelope.” This punishment was probably copied by the British from foreign troops during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The etymology of gantelope is traced to Swedish gatlopp, “passageway.”

As happens with many foreign borrowings, the unfamiliar gantelope eventually resolved itself into a more familiar word that sounded similar; in this case, gauntlet.

The word gauntlet is itself a French borrowing, the diminutive of gant, “glove.” A gauntlet was a glove worn with medieval armor, usually made of leather covered with plates of steel. Before settling into gauntlet, the word was also spelled gantlet.

A gauntlet was a leather glove plated with metal and worn with medieval armor.

To throw down/take up the gauntlet
Two other figurative expressions that make use of the word gauntlet really do reference the medieval armor accessory.

Throwing one’s gauntlet on the ground in front of an enemy was a way of challenging that person to a fight. Figuratively, to throw down the gauntlet is to challenge someone in some way. To take up the gauntlet means to accept a challenge.

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