There are any number of words or phrases I can say I first heard in an Elvis Costello song. After all, he’s a lyricist extraordinaire. And he often enunciates these luscious phrases, which isn’t always the case with singers. I think he may be quite proud of his work, and wants to ensure we hear it word-for-word. Tenterhooks is one example. You can hear it in the first line of his early hit, “Pump it Up”.  I can’t say that’s one of my favorites. I prefer some of the slower ones like “Every Day I Write the Book” and “Watching the Detectives”. But still, I do love the word.  It’s often misheard/misstated as the eggcorn, tender hooks. Which makes sense, as it means “being in an anxious state of suspense”.  I was relieved to learn from World Wide Words  that tenterhooks originated with a process involved in making cloth. I had a different image in mind; something more violent involving dead bodies or hunks of raw meat. I know, I know. I’ve found occasion to use the word, and each time I feel a little giddy. And you? Did you know where this word came from? Did you think it was tender hooks? Come on, I want to know. I’m on…well, you know…tenterhooks.

5 thoughts on “Tenterhooks

  1. I like the word. It conjures up images of “Cold Mountain.” I don’t know why but, I did get to use the word, conjures.

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