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Running the gauntlet

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 28, 2008 at 05:04

In Reply to: Running the gauntlet posted by Victoria S Dennis on May 26, 2008 at 12:33:

: : : Re "running the gauntlet", I recall a scene in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (Ingrid Bergman etc.) which shows a similar ordeal.

: : : The victims are made to run through an avenue of revolutionaries, all armed with grain flails, and are thrown to their deaths. Don't ask me for more detail - I saw it in 1944-45.

: : Interesting.

: I suspect that similar punishments have been used in many different cultures. The key feature is that the whole community is involved in, and responsible for, the punishment. If at least a substantial majority of the people don't think the victim deserves it, it won't work; and afterwards they can't disown it as "nothing to do with us, not our fault". (VSD)

The Oxford English Dictionary declares that gauntlet in this meaning is a corruption of gantelope, a word of Swiss origin, which may have found its way into English during the Thirty Years' War. OED, s.v. gantlope: "A military (occas. also naval) punishment in which the culprit had to run stripped to the waist between two rows of men who struck at him with a stick or a knotted cord. rare exc. in to †pass, run the gantelope."

The two spellings existed side by side throughout the 16th 17th, and 18th centuries, and much of the 19th. Now one hears only the gauntlet version.