Welcome word nerds! Last week I introduced you to the marvellous word scurryfunge, and gave you four possible definitions for the word. (If you missed that post, click here now, before you see the answer!!) In fact, I’ll save the answer until the end of this post, in case you want to hop on over and have a crack at guessing the correct definition.
Today, I’m exploring the phrase, ‘on tenterhooks’. I used it recently when I described myself as having been ‘on tenterhooks’, waiting for the release of Over Maya Dead Body, the final book in Sandra Orchard’s Serena Jones series. If you’ve read ANYTHING I’ve written in the last couple of days, you’ll know why, but in case you’ve missed it, you can find out all about it in my interview with Sandra.
Most of us would know that being ‘on tenterhooks’ means to be in a state of suspense over something. But where does the expression come from?
As it turns out, it comes from an apparatus used in the making of woollen cloth called a tenter (derived from the Latin word tendere meaning ‘to stretch’). Once a length of woollen cloth had been woven, it needed to be washed in order to remove residual oils and dirt in the wool. Left to dry naturally, the woollen cloth would warp, making the fabric buckled and uneven. To prevent this, the fabric would be stretched out on a tenter frame and attached to tenterhooks at regular intervals to keep it straight and flat. There are some great pictures of what this looks like at The Warp and Weft Blog, and another illustration at The Phrase Finder.
It’s not a difficult progression from there to see how one might compare a state of suspense, where one’s emotions are suspended, stretched, and held taut, to the state of drying fabric held by tenterhooks. In fact, knowing it adds a little something to the phrase, don’t you think?
By the way, the answer from last week was (b).
ScurryFunge – to rush around cleaning when company is on their way over.
Let’s just say it’s a word that will come in handy around our house. 😉
How about you. Have you had occasions to scurryfunge recently? I’m on tenterhooks waiting to find out!