Our friend Deming spotted my misspelling of “Tenterhooks” (tenDerhooks–I put a D for T) in this morning’s post (Testing times) and did some research.
“I knew the word you were looking for was “tenterhooks”, but I had to go to the internet to find the origin. It comes from the fuller trade in medieval times apparently, when cloth was stretched over a tent-like structure on tenterhooks. Assuredly an uncomfortable feeling if applied to people!”
Intrigued, I went on the hunt for info myself.
The phrase on tenterhooks first appeared in the 18th century novel Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett.
Ever wondered where the phrase ‘on tenterhooks’ comes from? Once woollen cloth has been woven it needs to have the natural oils present in wool washed out. After the cloth has been washed it needs to be stretched over a frame so that the cloth dries straightened, uncreased, in a uniform fashion: ie so that the width of the cloth is consistent throughout its length. In times gone by, it would have been a common sight in areas where woollen cloth was produced to see fields full of the wooden ”tenter’ frames with wet cloth stretched and held in place by the metal hooks, drying in the air.
Laura took these pictures at the National Wool Museum in Wales.
Tendere the Latin word to stretch is the clue to the metaphorical meaning that’s evolved-–to feel stretched with anticipatory anxiety.
I spy a D in there, so I’m having the last word.
I like the word TENDERHOOKS anyway and may go on using it!