run the gauntlet: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘run the gauntlet’ mean?

The idiom "run the gauntlet" means to go through a difficult or dangerous experience where there are multiple challenges or obstacles to overcome.

Idiom Explorer


Running the gauntlet is an idiom that originates from a form of military punishment. In this type of punishment, an individual would have to run between two rows of soldiers who would strike them with various weapons. It was a harsh disciplinary measure used to maintain order within the military.

The idiom itself can be traced back to the early 17th century, where it was first mentioned in English literature. It was used metaphorically to describe situations where someone had to endure a series of difficult obstacles or experiences. Running the gauntlet became synonymous with enduring a long and challenging ordeal with little chance of success or escape.

Over time, the idiom has evolved to encompass a wider range of situations and contexts. It is now commonly used metaphorically to describe any situation where someone is forced to undergo a series of difficulties, challenges, or criticisms. For example, one may have to face a barrage of tough questions during a job interview or endure a string of harsh criticism in a public forum. In these situations, running the gauntlet represents the idea of facing and surviving a daunting task or ordeal.

In addition to its usage in English, the idiom has also been adopted in various other languages and cultures, often with similar connotations. For instance, in German, the phrase "Das Todesstreif" (the death strip) is used to describe a similar type of punishment or challenge. This demonstrates the universal nature of the concept behind the idiom and its enduring relevance in different societies.

He faces the gauntlet, ready to run.

Despite its violent origins, the idiom has taken on a more symbolic meaning in modern usage. It has become a way to describe the resilience and determination required to navigate through difficult situations and emerge victorious. Running the gauntlet, in its figurative sense, is a testament to the strength of character and fortitude needed to confront and overcome obstacles in life.

run a risk is another idiomatic phrase that relates to running the gauntlet. When someone "runs a risk," they are taking a chance or exposing themselves to potential harm or negative outcomes. This phrase can be used to describe situations where someone makes a decision or takes an action that carries a certain amount of uncertainty or danger. There is an inherent risk involved, similar to running the gauntlet where the individual faces potential harm or punishment.

Another related idiom is "run the gamut." This phrase is used to describe someone or something that encompasses a wide range or variety of things. When someone "runs the gamut," they experience or encounter the full extent or breadth of something. In relation to running the gauntlet, someone who is forced to endure a series of difficult obstacles or experiences could be said to be running the gamut of challenges.

The idiom "run scared" is also related to running the gauntlet. When someone is said to "run scared," they are acting out of fear or panic, often in response to a perceived threat or danger. Similar to running the gauntlet, someone who is running scared is trying to escape or avoid a challenging or threatening situation. Both phrases describe a sense of urgency and the desire to find safety or security.

Running the gauntlet is an idiom that originated from a form of military punishment. It has evolved to represent a metaphorical endurance of difficult obstacles or experiences. The idiom has been adopted in various cultures and languages, demonstrating its universal nature. Despite its violent origins, it now symbolizes the resilience and determination needed to overcome challenges. Running the gauntlet relates to other idioms such as "run a risk," "run the gamut," and "run scared," which all convey different aspects of facing difficulties or challenges.

Example usage

Examples of the idiom "run the gauntlet" used in sentences:

  1. He had to run the gauntlet of reporters as he left the courtroom.
  2. The job candidate had to run the gauntlet of multiple interviews before being offered the position.
  3. Students who want to join the debate team have to run the gauntlet of auditions and tryouts.

This idiom is often used metaphorically to describe a situation where someone has to endure a series of difficult or challenging experiences in order to reach a desired outcome. The origin of this phrase comes from a punishment in which a person would run between two parallel rows of people who would strike them with sticks, and the person had to run to the end without getting hit. This idiom is commonly used in contexts where someone has to face a barrage of criticism, obstacles, or challenges, and must navigate through them successfully in order to achieve their goal. It implies that the process will be difficult and potentially hazardous, but perseverance can lead to success.

More "Challenge" idioms