The phrase \u201con tenterhooks\u201d is quite common in English. However, it is also one of the most widely misspelled phrases around (it even came in at number two in a British survey).\r\n\r\nBut what does it mean to be \u201con tenterhooks\u201d? What exactly is a \u201ctenterhook\u201d? And how do you avoid errors when using this phrase? In this post, we explain everything you need to know.\r\nWhat \u201cOn Tenterhooks\u201d Means\r\nWhen we say we are \u201con tenterhooks,\u201d we mean that we are feeling tense or agitated due to anticipating a future event. For example, we might use it in a sentence as follows:\r\nI\u2019ve been on tenterhooks waiting for my exam results.\r\nThis means that we find waiting for the results hard to bear! But where does the phrase come from?\r\nThe Origins of Tenterhooks\r\n\u201cTenterhooks\u201d comes from the old-fashioned term \u201ctenter.\u201d This was a frame used for drying and stretching cloth, so a \u201ctenterhook\u201d was a hook used on one of these frames.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_4939" align="aligncenter" width="399"] A tenter frame in action.(Photo: Clem Rutter\/wikimedia)[\/caption]\r\n\r\nYou won\u2019t see many tenter frames around these days. However, if you time traveled back to a wool-making town in seventeenth-century England, they\u2019d be a common sight.\r\n\r\nTenters were actually used as far back as the fourteenth century, but we picked the seventeenth century as our time travel destination because this is when the phrase \u201con the tenters\u201d first appears.\r\n\r\nThis then evolved into \u201con tenterhooks\u201d in the same way we use it today. Its meaning was probably more obvious at the time, as people were used to seeing cloth literally being held in suspense by tenterhooks. The jump to metaphorical tension or suspense was therefore a natural one.\r\nTenterhooks vs. Tenderhooks?\r\nOne common error people make when using this phrase is to write \u201ctenderhooks\u201d instead of \u201ctenterhooks.\u201d This may be a result of mishearing the term when spoken. Or it might just be because \u201ctender\u201d is a familiar English word. Unfortunately, \u201ctenderhooks\u201d is not a real word at all.\r\n\r\nWe admit that the image of a \u201ctender\u201d hook is intriguing, though. Perhaps it is less pointy than most hooks? Or a hook used for attaching yourself to a loved one? The possibilities are endless.\r\n\r\nBut until someone does invent a \u201ctender hook,\u201d we recommend sticking to the phrase \u201con tenterhooks\u201d if you are trying to express anticipation or suspense.