Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

It was mentioned by friend of the site Ray Ebersole in my 2010 wrap-up that I should do a Grammar 101 post on this subject. He (incorrectly) said that my list ran the “gambit” when it came to the topics I cover on Beyond the Rhetoric.

And from that grammatical error rose the subject of today’s post. What is the correct expression when you mean to say that something encompasses the full range? When you want to say that something covers everything that it needs to cover, what is the correct idiom for you to use?

Run the Gamut

To say that something includes all the items within a prescribed group or type, you would say that it runs the gamut. Interestingly enough, the word “gamut” is rarely used outside of this context. Gamut is defined as a complete range, as would the case when you talk about a “color gamut” in computer graphics.

It is quite common for people to misuse this expression, saying that something runs the gauntlet or (less commonly) that something runs the gambit. Neither one of these is correct if you mean to say that something is all-encompassing.

A gauntlet is an armored glove with longer sleeves. Alternatively, “running the gauntlet” is a form of corporal punishment wherein the person walks between two rows of soldiers who strike him as he passes. You could say that someone “ran the gauntlet” if he just experienced a severe or extended punishment. This error is just as common as people misusing the term “begs the question” to mean something different entirely.

A gambit is an early move that is designed to secure some sort of advantage. This term is popularly used in chess wherein a player might use the ploy of sacrificing a less significant game piece in order to gain an overall advantage. It’s also used commonly in political debates.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 post? Feel free to let me know through the comment form below.