gauge of battle

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eeladvised

Member
Slovene - Slovenia
I recently encountered the phrase that an opponent "has thrown down the gauge of battle", which got me wondering what exactly "gauge" means in this context. I can understand throwing down the *gauntlet*, but what would throwing down the *gauge* be? And what exactly would the "gauge of battle" be? I haven't found any really suitable sense of "gauge" in the dictionaries. And yet googling for phrases like this finds enough occurrences that it surely can't be simply an error.

Some examples from Google results:
"They have thrown down the gauge of war, and there is nothing left for us but to accept the hard necessity" (Michigan Argus, 1862)
"They have thrown down the gauge of battle, and we have taken it up " (New York Times, 1864)
"John Tanner, sued by Mayor Hopkins for defamation of character, has thrown down the gauge of battle" (Chicago Tribune, 1895)
"fighting the enemy who had thrown down the gauge of battle to the United States" (Rockhampton, Qld., Morning Bulletin, 1945)

Some examples without throwing:
"McClellan offered the gauge of battle; Lee was bound to accept." (D. A. Dickert, "History of Kershaw's Brigade", 1899)
"We are now about to accept gauge of battle with this natural foe to liberty" (Wilson's message to Congress upon entering WW1, 1917)
"The gauge of battle had swung clearly to Giap and with it that great prize in war, the initiative. ... in retrospect, it is always easy to see how the gauge of battle had shifted" (Phillip B. Davidson, "Vietnam at War", 1991)
"he realized that the Union army, without the gauge of battle, would remain as strong as ever" (Bevin Alexander, "How the South Could Have Won the Civil War", 2007)

The last couple of these could perhaps be said to be using "gauge" in something like one of its usual senses - a standard, a test, an instrument of testing. But most of the others seem to treat it as a synonym of "gauntlet"...
 
  • eeladvised

    Member
    Slovene - Slovenia
    Perhaps what is happening here is that "gauge of battle" by itself can be connected reasonably enough with the "test" sense of "gauge", but then linking that to throwing is a misguided consequence of the similarity between the words "gauge" and "gauntlet"?
     

    eeladvised

    Member
    Slovene - Slovenia
    FWIW, I did find one British example: "my able and enthusiastic fellow-traveller, Lieutenant Kozloff, has thrown down the gauge of battle"
    (Sven Hedin, Through Asia, vol. 2, p. 883 (London: Methuen & Co., 1898), translated by J. T. Bealby, who seems to have been British).
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Some examples from Google results:
    "They have thrown down the gauge of war, and there is nothing left for us but to accept the hard necessity" (Michigan Argus, 1862)
    "They have thrown down the gauge of battle, and we have taken it up " (New York Times, 1864)
    "John Tanner, sued by Mayor Hopkins for defamation of character, has thrown down the gauge of battle" (Chicago Tribune, 1895)
    "fighting the enemy who had thrown down the gauge of battle to the United States" (Rockhampton, Qld., Morning Bulletin, 1945)
    All four of the quotes should be "gage", so far as I can tell. I have no idea what the writers of the other quotes meant by "gauge". [Edit: the first two would appear to be "gage", but I am not at all sure of the remaining two]

    From gage - WordReference.com Dictionary of English:
    something, as a glove, thrown down by a medieval knight in token of challenge to combat.​
     
    Last edited:

    eeladvised

    Member
    Slovene - Slovenia
    Ah - "gauge" is pronounced the same as "gage", and according to the OED "gauge" is often spelled "gage" in American English. I guess some authors erred in the opposite direction and spelled it "gauge" even when it should be "gage".
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I recently encountered the phrase that an opponent "has thrown down the gauge of battle", which got me wondering what exactly "gauge" means in this context. I can understand throwing down the *gauntlet*, but what would throwing down the *gauge* be? And what exactly would the "gauge of battle" be? I haven't found any really suitable sense of "gauge" in the dictionaries. And yet googling for phrases like this finds enough occurrences that it surely can't be simply an error.

    Some examples from Google results:
    "They have thrown down the gauge of war, and there is nothing left for us but to accept the hard necessity" (Michigan Argus, 1862)
    "They have thrown down the gauge of battle, and we have taken it up " (New York Times, 1864)
    "John Tanner, sued by Mayor Hopkins for defamation of character, has thrown down the gauge of battle" (Chicago Tribune, 1895)
    "fighting the enemy who had thrown down the gauge of battle to the United States" (Rockhampton, Qld., Morning Bulletin, 1945)

    Some examples without throwing:
    "McClellan offered the gauge of battle; Lee was bound to accept." (D. A. Dickert, "History of Kershaw's Brigade", 1899)
    "We are now about to accept gauge of battle with this natural foe to liberty" (Wilson's message to Congress upon entering WW1, 1917)
    "The gauge of battle had swung clearly to Giap and with it that great prize in war, the initiative. ... in retrospect, it is always easy to see how the gauge of battle had shifted" (Phillip B. Davidson, "Vietnam at War", 1991)
    "he realized that the Union army, without the gauge of battle, would remain as strong as ever" (Bevin Alexander, "How the South Could Have Won the Civil War", 2007)

    The last couple of these could perhaps be said to be using "gauge" in something like one of its usual senses - a standard, a test, an instrument of testing. But most of the others seem to treat it as a synonym of "gauntlet"...
    These are very old usages in general, though I see they have popped up in more recent history writing. It's true that historians are more likely than many people to imbibe older expressions through their extensive reading of old texts and documents.

    It sounds like this might have been a relatively popular set phrase in the 19th century, and may have persisted among military historians. The 19th century did like the Middle Ages as a cultural reference point.
     
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