The Cracker Barrel
ArtiFacts: UNIVERSITY OF MAINE MUSEUM NEWS FOR SCHOOLS
To be on tenterhooks (not tenderhooks) is to be nervously waiting to find out what is going to happen in a tense or perilous situation.
Literally, a tenter is a wooden frame used to hang newly woven woolen cloth in order to prevent it from shrinking as it dries. The tenterhooks, obviously, are the hooks on the tenter used to hold the cloth in place. The figurative sense, which developed in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, comes from the fact that cloth hung on tenterhooks is tense and stretched. Those adjectives might also describe the mental state of someone in anxious suspense over something.
Four-flusher is an American idiom that first appeared around the turn of the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the term four-flusher, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
The term four-flusher describes someone who is a phony, a fake, someone who blatantly and unsuccessfully attempts a bluff. A related term is four-flushing. The term comes from the game of poker and refers to a person who attempts to pass off an incomplete flush hand as a winning hand. In poker, a flush consists of a hand of five cards that are all of one suit, a four-flusher is someone who attempts to pass off a hand that consists of only four cards of a matching suit as a winning hand. It is interesting that this was a common enough occurrence to justify a term for such an action. It wasn’t long before this American term came to be used figuratively as an idiom. Note that four-flusher is properly rendered with a hyphen.