on tenterhooks

Idioms & Phrases

on tenterhooks

In a state of painful suspense, as in We were on tenterhooks all through the game, hoping against hope that our team would win. This expression alludes to hooks that formerly were used to hold newly woven cloth that was being stretched on a frame. Their name has long survived this method of manufacture. [Mid-1700s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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