Tuesday, March 08, 2005

All the Orthography That's Fit to Print

The New York Times did its duty in building our word power yesterday with its front page story "U.S. Checkpoints a Deadly Gantlet" by John Burns. That's how it appeared in the national edition, but it appears under a different title in the linked story.

"Gantlet"? Huh? I immediately wondered who the copy editor was who let that misspelling slip through--and on the front page, no less. But then I had my doubts and pulled my trusty dictionary. There it was, gantlet being a variant spelling of gauntlet. (In addition, gantlet is also the name of a Y-shaped piece of railroad track allowing two tracks to converge and run together.) A gantlet is where one passes through a dangerous narrow place subject to assault while a gauntlet is the glove in suits of armor that one throws down to make a challenge. (The American Heritage College Dictionary, however, puts both words under the spelling gauntlet.)

A piece in the Columbia Journalism Review here says that gantlet and gauntlet are two different words entirely and they should not be confused. And a class for copy editors at the University of Richmond specifically lists the two words in its syllabus.

I'd never noticed it before but a Google-aided search of the Times's site reveals the spelling "gantlet" is not a rarity in its pages. For example in "Lapses Feared in 2000 Vetting of Kerik" by Kevin Flynn and William K. Rashbaum on December 17, 2004, appeared the sentence "White House officials have said they relied in part on the assumption that Mr. Kerik had already run a gantlet of city background checks before becoming police commissioner." And in "Paying a Price for Doughnuts, Burgers and Pizza" by David Gonzalez on January 25, 2005, was another appearance in an alliterative couplet: "It is no accident that one of the best views of this gastronomic gantlet is from the steps of the very place where it has led more than a few unfortunates: the Ortiz Funeral Home."

Just when you thought you knew your native tongue it leaps out and bites you with its intricacies.


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