Ooh, You Are Awful … But I Like You!

I’ll defend the Oxford English Dictionary to my last breath as one the highest achievements of British learning and literature.

It would be my Desert Island Discs book. (If that was forbidden, it’d have to be Howard Spring’s Fame Is The Spur.)

Even so, the OED has its irritations. Here’s what I found when I looked up tenterhooks:

the hooks or bent nails set in a close row along the upper and lower bar of a tenter, by which the edges of the cloth are firmly held

Wasn’t that helpful?

As for the rest:

tenter, noun:

A wooden framework on which cloth is stretched after being milled, so that it may set or dry evenly and without shrinking. Also †a pair of tenters (Obs. rare) and in pl. form tentersFormerly tenters of the length of a web of cloth stood in rows in the open air in  tenter-fields or grounds, and were a prominent feature in cloth-manufacturing districts; but the process of drying and stretching is now generally done much more rapidly in  tenter-houses by tenter- or tentering-machines.

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