I was sure that WordPress had a serious typo in today’s one word prompt, “tenterhooks.” I was absolutely positive the word was supposed to be “tenderhooks,” a word I’ve use occasionally to mean to be filled with painful or anxious anticipation or suspense. Like when you and your girlfriend are waiting to see if that plastic pregnancy test stick she peed on has a little plus sign in the window.
So I was going to write a snide post in which I would be laughing my virtual ass off at Michelle Weber, who posted the prompt, for her careless error. It turns out, though, that the error is mine. “Tenterhooks” it is! Sad!
Then I figured that tenterhooks must be hooks that campers use to secure their tents. I’ve tent-camped many times and had never heard of that term, so I thought maybe it was an archaic term for tent poles, stakes, or ropes. To confirm that, I Googled “tenterhooks.”
It turns out that tenterhooks have nothing whatsoever to do with tents. The word “tenterhooks” comes from the metal hooks that manufacturers used to stretch wool on a tenter while it dried. 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.”
Who knew? So I apologize to WordPress and to Michelle Weber for thinking it was a typo. And I am now swearing off ever using the phrase, “I’m on tenderhooks.”
By the way, she wasn’t pregnant.