I always thought gauntlet had 2 definitions: the hand piece of a suit of armour, and an obstacle course, like the kind filled with swinging traps and pits.

I've looked on the internet for a definition that fits my second definition, but I can't find one anywhere. All I find is an armour glove and something where 2 rows of people attack someone walking down the middle as a form of punishment.

Does anyone else know of this obstacle course definition I'm talking about? Can someone possibly link me to a definition if one is found?

A few examples are from the first 40 seconds of this video: http://www.moddb.com/groups/adventure-time-community-group/videos/adventure-time-business-time

And also I thought the game 'Gauntlet' was in reference to the fact that the whole game is like a gauntlet, as in an obstacle course with traps and such.

Could someone confirm if this is a real definition or if I'm just losing my marbles? Thanks!

  • It is a real definition, probably derived from the military punishment. – Anonym Dec 28 '15 at 19:12
  • It seems like you are looking for a formal reference for the "modern" usage of the term, as listed here (with insufficient references): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running_the_gauntlet#Modern_use – Nonnal Dec 28 '15 at 19:19
  • In my idiolect too it primarily connotes something like the trial of an obstacle course. My guess is that the obstacle course image (complete with swinging pendulums and pits) probably derives from the various weapons that the soldiers would use against the punished party as they passed. But I can't find an explicit definition which gives your (and my) sense. – GrimGrom Dec 28 '15 at 19:22
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    The definition you're describing is metaphorical, based on the two rows of people. – Hot Licks Dec 28 '15 at 21:00
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    In the punishment sense, the word is mainly found in the expression run the gauntlet. – Graffito Dec 28 '15 at 21:21

The etymology of the definition you're after comes from the military definition you mentioned:

a double file of men facing each other and armed with clubs or other weapons with which to strike at an individual who is made to run between them (source)

This article as well as the etymology dictionary describe the origins of the phrase run the gauntlet to describe this phenomenon.

Today, though, the phrase has developed a more figurative meaning. Instead of being beaten with literal clubs, it can mean facing stern opposition or challenge in some form.

  1. a line, series, or assemblage; especially : one that poses some sort of ordeal a gauntlet of autograph-seekers

  2. a severe trial (source)

This definition would certainly apply to a tough obstacle course, although it's not limited to obstacle courses.


Several places I looked up fit what you already had. I found a more interpretative definition at Merriam-Webster: an open challenge (as to combat).

The following, I expect you found in your search. Although simply definitions, you may have some more luck with the entry from Oxford (see addition below).

Vocabulary.com: a form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim - I'm not certain of the source this site uses.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online have it as only an idiomatic usage: a ​long, ​thick ​glove (= ​hand ​covering), ​worn for ​protection Idioms: run the gauntlet; take/pick up the gauntlet

Finally, The Oxford Dictionaries has it as a historical usage: Undergo the military punishment of receiving blows while running between two rows of men with sticks.

Also, Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has a word origin that may be a better explanation: alteration of gantlope (from Swedish gatlopp, from gata ‘lane’ + lopp ‘course’) by association with gauntlet ‘glove’. This can be found under the "Word Origin" expanding box. I'm not entirely clear as to how "by association" really connects the old Swedish meaning to "glove".

  • @Nonnal You are correct snark and poor scholarship are a bad combination. I think the additional information I found may improve my response. – Polymath Dec 28 '15 at 20:46
  • Thanks for taking the time to review and update. I will delete my comment so as not to unfairly taint the updated answer. – Nonnal Dec 28 '15 at 21:05

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