tenterhooks » tenderhooks

Chiefly in:   on tenderhooks

Classification: English – /t/-flapping

Spotted in the wild:

  • “Snooker: Nick left on tenderhooks. MANCHESTER professional Nick Dyson faces an anxious wait to find out whether he will still have a place…” (link)
  • “Home Page. Portus has hedge fund industry on tenderhooks. Project runs into stiff opposition by bank-owned firms” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Robert Hartwell Fiske (The Dictionary of Disagreeable English)
  • James Cochrane (Between You and I)

The “tenter” of “tenterhooks” — referring to a stretching device — is utterly unfamiliar to most English speakers, so it’s not surprising that some of them have replaced it by the familiar “tender”, suggesting the pain that comes from having hooks in tender places.

| link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/04/10 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Nigel Pond , 2005/04/14 at 10:18 pm

    Of course this one is not helped by the tendency of most Americans to pronounce t in the middle of a word as d (there is a technical name for that but I forget what it is).

  2. 2

    Commentary by Arnold Zwicky , 2005/04/15 at 12:22 am

    In response to Nigel Pond: flapping (intervocalically, after an accented syllable and before an unaccented one), implicated in so many eggcorns (for Americans, anyway). But many Americans — me, for instance — who neutralize the /t/-/d/ distinction in this context usually distinguish /nt/ (a nasalized flap) from /nd/ ([nd]) there. Others do not.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Trischa Baker , 2005/11/01 at 2:19 pm

    “Tender” hooks is possibly also encouraged by the thought of butcher’s hooks - meat being hung to age and tenderise? Just a thought - confusion between suspension and tension and the idea of “tension” in something stretching by hanging. Seems more likely to me than “the pain of hooks in tender places” - which might be relevant to fakirs, but not really the rest of us. If you are hanging on a butcher’s hook you are also helpless and immobilised (which suits the sense of “waiting breathlessly” on tenterhooks).

  4. 4

    Commentary by Bil Munsil , 2006/03/08 at 4:29 pm

    “Today the listeners to KXXT 1010 Talk Air America station hung on tender
    hooks to hear if Our radio station was going dark.”

    PS - It did. There is no longer an Air America station in Phoenix AZ.

  5. 5

    Commentary by David Bashant , 2006/06/05 at 3:17 pm

    Can you give an example of that, Nigel?

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