(Yes, yes, I know. “Tenderhooks” should be spelled “Tenterhooks” but I always wanted to start an essay with a parenthetical statement.)
I cannot recall the first time that I heard the phrase “being on tenterhooks”, but I was certain that I heard “tenderhooks”. I knew what it meant simply by understanding what “hooks” were and regardless of what the other two syllables sounded like, if one were on a “hook” it could not be a good thing. I now know precisely what the derivation of the word is and I can assure you that whether you are literally or metaphorically on “tenterhooks,” it is not a good thing.
I went to the Infusion Center yesterday and had a pint drawn. It was a memorably nostalgic experience (Yes, yes, I know, “memorably nostalgic” is a kind of double negative or a semantic reduplication, but I really mean what the words say.) None of the lady nurses would have anything to do with me this time around. They sent “Gory” and his little UVU side-kick “Nickel” to work me over. The first thing that “Gory” said to me when he arrived with his basket of medieval instruments was, “Hi! My name is ‘Gory” and this is my little UVU side-kick ‘Nickel’” (This, of course, constitutes meta-fictional redundancy because I already told you that in the previous sentence.) “Would you mind if ‘Nickel’ does the phlebotomy? She is a nursing student and is only here today during her clinical. She wants to be party to as much blood-spla….., er…, as many medical procedures as possible.”
“Sure,” I replied. “I haven’t long to live anyhow. You might as well move things along.”
“Thanks!” He then turned to the little nursing student, who looked like she was twelve, and began giving her instructions. It was then that I had the memorably nostalgic experience. I was taken back sixty years to the banks of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. My family was camped at Red’s Meadows, then a primitive camping site near Devil’s Postpile in central California. My Dad was taking me fishing for the first time and was teaching me how to bait a hook. Gory’s voice echoed every word my father said to me.
“First you have to find a big juicy one…. Try that one there…. Right…. Now take the point and push it right into the center… Ooops! That went just a little too far. Back it up…. Move it to the left a little…. Now push it in as far as it will go…. Ooooohhh, sorry about that! That’s okay; I have another one over here.”
Then “Gory” turned to me. “You seem a little tense, Dr. Beeblebrox. And clammy! My, you are moist! Dr. Beeblebrox? Dr. Beeblebrox? Zaphod? Are you alright?” Everything went mercifully black for a while. That constituted my literal "tenterhook" episode of the week.
Now I have to wait two weeks in order to have my blood drawn for a check of ferritin levels. I am really curious about this because my last evaluation was in January when my ferritin count had dropped to under four hundred points. Remember that I had started this whole thing with a count of 826, but with each monthly phlebotomy the count dropped an average of 120 points. When I did not have a phlebotomy in December, my ferritin only dropped 50 points or so over the two months. It was then I determined to have a pint drawn in both February and March prior to my annual physical with “Doc Holliday”. If the previous regimen is any indication, I should drop another 240 points of ferritin putting me at about 150 or so. But I will not know for certain until another three weeks have passed. The metaphorical “tenterhook” aspect in all of this is the wait; I want to know now if all that has been going on since the first of the year has been productive, particularly since I am the one who inserted the extra phlebotomy into the calendar. I would really like to know if I have played the fool in this matter. I am, however, as optimistic as ever.
Now for those of you who have been on "tenterhooks" (either literal or metaphorical), wanting and waiting to know the linguistic origins of the word “tenterhook” I submit the following: A “tenter” is a rack or frame upon which woolen or other cloths have been “stretched” after having been washed or dyed. Etymologically, “tenter” derives from the Latin past participle of “tendere” meaning “to stretch”. (Note the “d” in the Latin word; I always seem to intuitively know the right spelling.) Some scholars have also suggested that the word has been influenced by the Middle French word “teindre”, a word meaning “to dye” (But can you trust anyone who likes to eat frogs’ legs?) The tenterhooks were curved nails driven through the frames of the “tenter” which were used to stretch the cloth so that it might retain its intended shape and size. “Tenters” were set out in “tenterfields” to dry. For those of you who are as compulsive as I am about these sorts of linguistic issues, the edges of the cloth that are placed on the “tenterhooks” are called “selvages”, the coarse woven border that usually is discarded when the cloth is finally cut to pattern. This is kind of like the pint of blood that “Gory” and “Nickel” threw away yesterday after dinking around with my veins.
Waters Blue - This morning I was prancing through the text of the first volume of my autobiography, in preparation for its printing in a month or so. As I was reviewing...
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