Putting up with throwing down the etymological gauntlet

A gauntlet (also spelled gantlet) is literally ‘a small glove,’ though the sense in English was originally (and still historically) ‘a part of a suit of armor that covers the forearm.’ In modern English a gauntlet can be any sort of ‘protective glove.’ English took the word from Old French gantelet, a diminutive of gant. That noun, along with the synonymous Spanish guante, ultimately traces back to a Frankish original presumed to have been *want. We should mention that Spanish also borrowed from French the guantelete that designates part of a suit of armor. We should point out in addition that the English gauntlet that appears in the phrase run the gauntlet is an unrelated word.

My guess is that even native Spanish speakers probably don’t connect guante with the aguantar that means ‘to put up with, to bear,’ yet there is a connection. Spanish borrowed aguantar from Italian agguantare, a verb coined to express the notion of grabbing on to something while wearing gloves for protection. The semantics then shifted metaphorically through ‘get a hold of’ and ‘deal with’ to the current senses of ‘bear, put up with.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yong Huang
    Jul 30, 2017 @ 13:44:44

    Even English “hold” can mean literally “hold with a hand” and figuratively “hold on” or “hold out”.


  2. Jim R
    Jul 30, 2017 @ 15:29:02

    What do you say to using the term gaunt as referring to those thin and haggard looking people? Any connection to gauntlet?


  3. shoreacres
    Jul 30, 2017 @ 22:45:35

    And, as you alluded to with your title, we also have the phrase “throw down the gauntlet.” which harkens back to those good old days of armor-wearing and dueling. To throw down the gauntlet was literally to throw the glove on the ground as a way of issuing a challenge to a duel. To pick up the gauntlet was to accept the challenge.

    In King Lear, Act 5, Scene iii, there’s one reference to the practice. I’ve abbreviated it mightily, to pull out the gauntlet references:

    “Thou art armed, Gloucester. Let the trumpet sound.
    If none appear to prove upon thy person
    Thy heinous, manifest, and many treasons,
    There is my pledge.” (throws down his glove)

    (throwing down his glove)
    “There’s my exchange. What in the world he is
    That names me traitor, villainlike he lies.
    Call by thy trumpet. He that dares approach,
    On him—on you, who not?—I will maintain
    My truth and honor firmly.”


  4. Steve Schwartzman
    Jul 30, 2017 @ 23:10:54

    So we could say you picked up the gauntlet by finding instances of throwing down the gauntlet in Shakespeare—and you flew to it on a Lear jet.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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