Judging by the meaning of this phrase it sounds like it should read “on tender hooks”, the meaning being “in an anxious or nervous state of waiting to find out what´s going to happen”. Until my sister pointed it out to me I always said “on tender hooks” and I felt it was appropriate as it meant to me that one was worried and tense and “tender”. But no, it looks like I got it very wrong.
So where does “on tenterhooks” come from? Well, according to Wikipedia, tenterhooks were used in the process of making woollen cloth. After the cloth was woven it still contained oif from the fleece and some dirt and it was brought to a fulling mill to be cleaned and then it had to be dried on a large wooden frame (a tenter). The lenghts of wool were stretched over the tenter using hooks all around the frame to hold them in place thus taking care that the wool wouldn’t shrink and that it would hold its shape.
So I’m glad to say that at the moment I am not “on tenterhooks” nor am I “on tender hooks” nor am i “at the end of my tether”. I haven’t a care in the world at the moment. There’s lots of things that could and should be worrying me but I’ve decided that life’s too short and I don’t like the idea of being “hung out to dry on a tenter” with hooks holding me in place and stretching me every which way. No Siree!!! I’ll take life as it comes