Quickly before your word origin lesson of the day – I’m taking a SHIT on someone else’s blog. In the nice, interview type way. Awesome friend and soon-to-be-published author Anita Howard set me up with my own questions over on A Still And Quiet Madness. Hit it up to find out about my submission experience!
I’m such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I’m fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I’ve got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.
I thought I’d share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you – Word Origins from Left Field – that’s right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency’s name!) Er… ignore the fact that the “from” doesn’t fit.
You have the indomitable RC Lewis to thank for today’s WOLF. During the course of our daily and verbose e-conversations, she used the word tenterhooks. Me being the self-proclaimed nerd immediately said, “Hey, I know where that word comes from!” And, as I know her ACT score (ahem, higher than mine) I assumed she did too.
But she had fallen for the same trap I did, years ago when BBC-That-Was thought that tenterhooks referred to a hook that you would hang a meat or carcass from. Alas! This is incorrect.
A tenter is a wooden frame, used in the stretching and drying of woolen cloth to remove the weave and reduce shrinkage once it became a garment. A tenterhook is one of the many hooks on the frame used to stretch the fabric.
Although this practice is very much a thing of the past, when you think about it, it makes quite a bit of sense. When you say you’re “on tenterhooks,” what you’re conveying is that you are stressed and tense while waiting to discover something.
It does not mean, “Wow! I’m so excited to hear what happens next that it’s like I’m a hollowed out carcass hanging from a hook!”