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[ten-ter-hoo k] /ˈtɛn tərˌhʊk/
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.
Origin of tenterhook
1470-80; tenter + hook1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for tenterhooks
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I waited on tenterhooks; then I could bear the suspense no longer.'

  • I like to be settled about what I'm going to do: there's nothing so uncomfortable as hanging on tenterhooks.

    Hope Mills Amanda M. Douglas
  • The man in the corner made a long pause, keeping the girl on tenterhooks.

    The Old Man in the Corner Baroness Orczy
  • He winced and she scribbled a note, leaving him on tenterhooks while she wrote.

    Makers Cory Doctorow
  • But to keep him on tenterhooks, eating his heart out with jealousy, while you frankly encouraged me—you know you did.

    Far to Seek Maud Diver
  • They were on tenterhooks to know why we English should be so eager to take up their quarrel.

    A Tatter of Scarlet S. R. Crockett
  • A long silence followed, during which Patrice remained on tenterhooks.

    The Golden Triangle Maurice Leblanc
  • As it is, I am on tenterhooks lest she should discover what is up.

    A Traitor's Wooing Headon Hill
British Dictionary definitions for tenterhooks


one of a series of hooks or bent nails used to hold cloth stretched on a tenter
on tenterhooks, in a state of tension or suspense
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for tenterhooks

late 15c., "one of the hooks that holds cloth on a tenter," from tenter + hook (n.). 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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Idioms and Phrases with tenterhooks


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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