November 2, 2009

Just don't throw down your gimlet

In the Middle Ages, one ran a gantlet (an ordeal) and threw down a gauntlet (an armored glove). No one does either of these things literally anymore, except, perhaps, in the SCA.

These expressions persist in modern English as idioms, but because we are so disconnected from their chivalric origins, people tend to get them wrong. They speak of “running a gauntlet,” although “throwing down a gantlet” is rarely heard.

I consulted with Prof. McIntyre over at You Don't Say, and he informed me that Bryan Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage, "is still holding the line on gantlet/gauntlet."

The new edition of Garner's includes a Language-Change Index, which ranges from Stage 1, rejected, to Stage 5, fully accepted. Prof. McIntyre informed me -- because I have not yet read the latest edition of Modern American Usage -- that Garner puts "run the gauntlet" at Stage 4. And, Prof. McIntyre added, "My own view is that it's a battle not worth fighting."

I'm inclined to agree. Moreover, I'm beginning to wonder if these phrases have passed from idiom to cliche. Surely it's better to endure an ordeal or issue a challenge while expressing your meaning in a clear, modern way. Unless you’re writing a historical novel set in the Middle Ages.

No comments:

Post a Comment