To be on tenterhooks is to be strained, waiting impatiently. But what the heck is a tenterhook?
A tenter is rack on which cloth or hide is stretched for drying. A tenterhook is what keeps the cloth in place. The exact origin of tenter is uncertain, the variety of forms makes it difficult to pin down. But it is either from the Anglo-Norman or Old French *tentour and ultimately the Latin *tentorum, or stretcher. English use goes back the 14th century manuscript Charter of the Abbey of the Holy Ghost:
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Whon þe Iewes hedden þus nayled Criston þe cros as men doþ cloþ on a teytur.
(When the Jews had thus nailed Christ on the the cross as men do to cloth on a tenter.)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton