Grammar

Gambit or Gamut? They Mean Two Different Things!

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You never know what you’ll find on personal profiles. Sometimes, they can even prompt a grammar debate like, ‘Did they mean gambit or gamut?’

Reading someone’s bio recently sparked an idea for this post about how to decide whether you mean gambit or gamut.

I’ve never seen anyone confuse these two words before, but in the world of grammar, anything truly can be possible.

The bio in question talked about someone whose wardrobe runs the “gambit” from super-casual sweats and sneakers to ultra-formal wear you’d see at the swankiest eateries.

But what the person meant to say was gamut.

Gambit

A gambit refers to a strategic move. In a game of chess, it refers to a player risking a minor piece to get the upper hand. But it can also refer more broadly to a calculated strategic move or a potentially hot topic designed to start a conversation or make what Merriam-Webster calls “a telling point.”

A recent Politico article carries this headline: “Dems’ new budget gambit comes with big risk.”

The New York Times recently ran a story wit this headline: “Xi’s Gambit: China Plans for a World Without American Technology.”

Both headlines refer to a strategic move.

In the first, the risk refers to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer using a budget maneuver called “reconciliation” to pass future legislation while dodging Republican roadblocks.

The second article refers to a plan by Chinese President Xi Jinping to spend money to be able to create technology without having to depend on the U.S. or other countries.

While some might consider certain wearing articles of clothing “taking a risk,” that’s clearly not what the bio meant.

Gamut

While gamut can refer to the “whole series of recognized musical notes,” it’s more well-known meaning a complete range of something. Most of the time, when someone uses the word gamut they’re referring to the scope of something. They’re talking about the variety from one extreme to the other.

The Port Townsend Leader published a story about area art galleries with this headline: “Styles of featured artists run gamut from organic to encaustic.”

Likewise, The Kitsap Daily News recently ran this headline: “Emotions run the gamut at end of ‘fall’ season.”

As you can read from these examples, they’re referring to ranges.


So that’s your tipoff. In that online bio, the writer meant to refer to a wardrobe that ran the gamut.

The gamut of my wardrobe may not be so wide these days. I tend to be more business casual most of the time…even when working from home.

2 Comments

  1. I find it incredibly hard to find that anyone could confuse those two words, which I use in my consistently rich use of language. I would not have thought that there could be any confusion between them, but then, I suppose I shouldn’t be.

    I get the majority of my words from books, and if I need to, will look them up to get the correct meaning. In all honesty, it is increasingly rare that I need to look up words, and I’m certain that while my vocabulary is considerably higher than many, it isn’t likely to encompass all 440,000 words. Still, most terms I come across that I will need to look up fall into medical and/or scientific terms, which are very specific to what I’m reading at any given time.

    By the way, currently I’m reading “Other Minds: the Octopus, the Sea, & the Deep Origins of Consciousness”, and it is great! I highly recommend it.

    1. Sometimes, I’m amazed at words that get confused, Aislínge. When I saw that one, my eyes did a double-take and then I realized what they meant.

      I think phrases like “runs the gamut” are commonly only encountered in the spoken word. So when someone actually attempts to write it out, they go with what they assume must be the right spelling. ‘Gamut’ isn’t that common a word and it’s one I rarely see in print these days. At least, that’s what I chalk this one up to.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.