When you’re nervously waiting for something, you’re kind of hooked that might feel delicate, but it’s not. The metaphorical hooks you are on are actually “clamping hooks”.
A listener of ours came to this realization after trying to figure out where the term “tender hooks” came from. He knew the meaning behind the phrase, but didn’t know that “tender” should be “tenter”.
Since very few of us actually know what a “tenter” is, “tender” is not an uncommon misinterpretation. But how did we get here?
On his blog World Wide Words, Michael Quinion explains how “hooks” originated in wool and fabric. After the fabric was woven, it had to be cleaned and then carefully dried to prevent shrinkage and wrinkles. This was achieved by stretching the cloth over a wooden frame called a “stretcher”. The cloth was held in place with metallic “tension hooks” to keep it taut or taut.
As mentioned earlier, when you are “excited,” you are anxiously awaiting or impatiently waiting for something, often with some anxiety. Your insides will feel tense or tense, much like a piece of cloth being stretched with tension hooks.
“Tenter” appears in English in the 14th century and derives from the same Latin word as “tent”. The metaphorical phrase “to be exciting” appears in the 16th century, followed by “to be exciting” in the 18th century.
The phrase “on the hook” is like a grain of eggs, what happens when we reframe something unknown into something that makes sense to us. A classic example is the reinterpretation of “for all intensive purposes” to “for all intents and purposes”.
Since very few people know what a “tenterhook” is, many people have reinterpreted it as a “tender hook”. There are several explanations for this, including the idea that the metaphorical hooks hit vulnerable spots in our bodies and that’s why the wait is so painful.
In his User’s Guide, Bryan Garner traces the Eierkorn “tender hooks” to early 19th-century American English. Professor Anne Curzan was able to find some recent examples of this in print, although she mostly found blogs and articles correcting people saying “tender hooks” instead of “tenterhooks”. Shocking, we know.