"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 18 May 2009

On tenterhooks

The expression to be on tenterhooks means to be in a state of supsense or apprehension.

It comes from the drying proces in the making of woollen cloth. After it had been woven, the cloth still contained dirt and oil from the fleece. It was cleaned in a fulling mill and then dried. The lengths of wet cloth were stretched on wooden frames or from beams to which they were fixed by tenterhooks. These frames, or tenters, were either left out in the fields or placed in a drying house which had open sides to allow the air through. To be on tenterhooks therefore meant being stretched out or in a state of anxious suspense.

These tenterhooks are in a roofbeam in the drying house at Cricklepit Mill, Exeter.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I loved this one! I have heard the word, but didn't realize how it was spelled, or literally what it meant.