Human tests—called clinical trials—are the gauntlet of drug development , and have three phases

What does "gauntlet" mean in the above context?

"throw down the gauntlet" is an idiom "to issue a challenge" where gauntlet refers to a type of glove. In the above extract the word gauntlet alone has been used as a noun, what does it mean there?

4 Answers 4


Two separate words, although they're spelled and pronounced the same. The first "gauntlet" comes to us through the French for glove, and it refers to hand armor. Go here for pictures. Tossing one's glove before an opponent was a challenge to fight, thus the idiom meaning to challenge. The second "gauntlet" was originally "gantlope," which comes from the Swedish gatlopp, literally "gate passage" and refers to a punishment of forcing someone to run between two lines of people who struck the unfortunate runner. Thus the word's use as a trial or ordeal. The OED suggests that the word entered English during the Thirty Years War and lost its pronunciation to the first gauntlet.

To makes things worse, there's also the word "gantlet," which is the configuration of two railroad lines that have to share a narrow passage. Go here for a diagram and here for a picture.

  • 1
    I wonder if the OP's source conflated the 2 senses of "running the gauntlet" -- the ordeal and "throwing down the gauntlet" -- the challenge. The original senetence seems rather muddled suggesting at first reading an armoured fist developing drugs rather than the meanings of either of the familiar phrases.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28, 2015 at 9:06
  • 2
    I favor the "running the gauntlet" interpretation—human drug trials can be a long ordeal, but not a deathmatch. Sep 28, 2015 at 10:25
  • 1
    The "running" interpretation is the only one that makes sense to me, but I would have much preferred the quoted passage to have been phrased so that the word "run" actually appeared.
    – David K
    Sep 28, 2015 at 12:30
  • The railroad "gantlet" is a specific instance of the "running the gauntlet" meaning of the term, and in fact some dictionaries list "gantlet" as an alternative spelling for that meaning.
    – Marthaª
    Sep 28, 2015 at 17:21

The reference is to running the gauntlet, originally a form of punishment where the individual was made to run between two rows of soldiers who would punch and beat him as he ran, but now more often taken to refer to a stressful and reasonably protracted period of tests or exercises.


The gauntlet of drug development is a use of "Running the gauntlet."

From: https://american-history.net/native-america/native-american-life/native-american-rituals/ ‘Run the gauntlet’ has become a well-known phrase today. This phrase is actually inspired from the Native American ritual of ‘Gauntlet’.

Gauntlet is a ritual which was performed to punish the guilty member of a tribe for some crime he or she had committed. In this ritual, two rows of warriors stood facing each other and holding sticks.

The guilty person had to run between the rows. As he or she ran, the warriors on both sides whipped the person with sticks as punishment for their crimes. End of reference.

There was also a tradition of American Indians using a milder form of the process to initiate a new member, perhaps even captured, into the tribe. Beating them as they ran the length of the row was to get out any and all the anger or resistance the members had to the new individual. When they completed the challenge they were helped and injuries looked after as they were now part of the group. Still looking for reference.


I think "gauntlet" here carries the sense of a tool/means to achieving a desired end (i.e. drug development here). The author's statement isn't neutral or benign; "gauntlet" packs a pejorative connotation, because a gauntlet is not some fuzzy wool glove keeping you warm, but part of knight's armor to stay protected in combat and deliver punishment. So this word choice evokes a scenario of combat/punishment and seems to frame clinical testing as a (violent) manipulation of its human objects.

  • 1
    That sounds like pure speculation.
    – mikeagg
    Sep 28, 2015 at 8:30
  • That awkward moment when you re-read an answer that you had written [the night before]; you wrinkle your brow, thinking, "nice try, but this person is way off base here," so you go to downvote it. But the system returns an error message because "you can't vote for your own post". An awkward silence ensues...and ensues...and ensues. The ambien walrus has struck again.
    – rchl
    Sep 28, 2015 at 19:42
  • 1
    Yup. Been there.
    – mikeagg
    Sep 29, 2015 at 8:01
  • Why isn't that moment quickly followed by the swift clicking of the mouse on the "delete" link? Nov 29, 2015 at 6:15
  • @GreenAsJade I probably would've deleted my original comment if it was later seen to be offensive. But I'm pretty sure that this one will sooner cause laughter than harm.
    – rchl
    Dec 4, 2015 at 4:10

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