Wacky Wonderful Words

After reading a blogger I follow Fish Of Gold’s post, I have been inspired to start a new section for this blog which will highlight different words I run across that are simply awesome.  I love cool words, whether they are cool by meaning or just are fun to say.  FOG’s blog post gave me a huge smile when I read “tenterhooks”.  What a fantastic word, it sounds awesome and almost straight from a suspense novel.

So, today we will celebrate TENTERHOOKS

What is a tenterhook?

According to Dictionary.com:

ten·ter·hook

[ten-ter-hook]

noun

1.

one of the hooks or bent nails that hold cloth stretched on a tenter.

Idioms

2.

on tenterhooks, in a state of uneasy suspense or painful anxiety: The movie keeps one on tenterhooks until the very last moment.
Of course, #2 is where the word is used most.  eg:  I’m on tenterhooks waiting for lab results.
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Meaning

In a state of uncomfortable suspense.

Origin

On tenterhooks

Tenterhooks aren’t directly connected with tents, nor are they the hooks used by butchers, as the common misspelling ‘tenderhooks’ might suggest. A tenter is a wooden frame, often in the form of a line of fencing, used to hang woollen or linen cloth to prevent it from shrinking as it dries. The tenterhooks are, not surprisingly, the hooks on the tenter used to hold the cloth in place.

Tenters are no longer everyday objects but a hundred years ago, in wool weaving areas like the North of England, they were a common sight on the land around the many woollen mills, called ‘tenter-fields’. It is easy to see how the figurative expression ‘on tenterhooks’, with its meaning of painful tension, derived from the ‘tenting’ or stretching of fabric. The expression was originally ‘on the tenters’. The English West Country playright John Ford was the first to record that expression in the play Broken Heart, 1633:

Passion, O, be contained. My very heart strings Are on the Tenters.

Towards the end of the century the more accurate ‘on the tenterhooks’ began to replace the earlier phrase. This first example that I have found of it in print is in the 1690 edition of a periodical that was published annually between 1688 and 1693, The General History of Europe:

The mischief is, they will not meet again these two years, so that all business must hang upon the tenterhooks till then.\

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And so there you have it, my first Wacky Wonderful Word!

3 thoughts on “Wacky Wonderful Words

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