one of the hooks or bent nails that hold cloth stretched on a tenter.
on tenterhooks, in a state of uneasy suspense or painful anxiety: The movie keeps one on tenterhooks until the very last moment.

1470–80; tenter + hook

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
tenterhook (ˈtɛntəˌhʊk)
1.  one of a series of hooks or bent nails used to hold cloth stretched on a tenter
2.  on tenterhooks in a state of tension or suspense

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

late 15c., "one of the hooks that holds cloth on a tenter," from tenter + hook. The figurative phrase on tenterhooks "in painful suspense" is from 1748; earlier to be on tenters (1530s).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


see on tenterhooks.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Players in the multi-billion pound advertising market are on tenterhooks.
Since the summer they have been on tenterhooks to find out whether the government would bring them into line, too.
On tenterhooks and ready to explode due to problems which cannot be addressed so soon.
We were on tenterhooks, waiting to make sure that everyone was okay and to learn whether inter-island travel would be affected.
Idioms & Phrases
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