For like, my whole life. I’ve been spelling (and saying) tender hooks and I never knew I was spelling it wrong. I mean, this was way before the age of spellcheck, so I had no idea that it was wrong, and why wouldn’t it be “tender hooks”? I mean, I know next to nothing about making woolen cloth. Okay, I know a little, but not the nuts and bolts of it. Though, to be fair, I thought that “tender hooks” had something vaguely to do with hanging meat to dry and nothing to do with making woolen cloth. In my mind, the hook went into the tendon and the meat was hung to dry, hence “tendon (or tender) hooks” and that’s the way it’s stuck in my mind forever and ever. I also vaguely thought it had to do with tanning hides… in that sense, I was kinda right, but still slightly off. So I learned something today in the writing of this blog.
My only usage of tenterhooks is with the phrase on tenterhooks. As in, “I haven’t heard back from my doctor yet, and I’m on tenterhooks about it.” which means to be excited or tense — I’ve always used it to mean the latter. That I’m in a delicate or tense situation and I’m stretched to the limit. The origin of the phrase backs me up on that:
plural of tenterhook (late 15c.), “one of the hooks that holds cloth on a tenter,” from tenter (q.v.) + hook (n.). The figurative phrase on tenterhooks “in painful suspense” is from 1748; earlier to be on tenters (1530s).
So, yeah, all my life I’ve been spelling it wrong. Like, totally wrong. Okay, one letter. But it’s weird that I’ve even read it incorrectly all of this time. Today’s the first time I can remember looking at the word and going “Tenter? What’s a tenter?” I am, as I mentioned before, in my early 50’s and it’s just weird that I’ve gone all of these decades with this word wrong in my head. Well, I think it’s weird.
Okay, it’s not life changing or anything. I’m not going question everything I’ve ever known, but what a strange way to start the day. Learn something new and relearn something I thought I knew. I’m just glad that I live in the age of Google so I can totally look up the word tenter and not only know what it is, but find the etymology of the word and visual representation of it. Seriously, back in the day, I must have looked at it, decided it was spelled wrong (obviously it should have been “tender”) and went about my merry business.
Just for the sake of being persnickety, my spellcheck is not flagging the first two instances of tenter as incorrect (nor is it flagging the one I just typed), but it’s totally underlining the one in the last sentence in red. So spellcheck is weird.