In History, What is, Words

Here’s a word that will trigger very different responses in readers, depending on whether you work in a bank, a hospital, in new business development, on the railways, at sea, or, like me, you just walked into the corner of a particularly unyielding worktop.

It reminds me of the time I got hit in the thigh by a hockey ball and a bruise came up that looked like an Indian sunset. Beautiful thing it was, all the colours of the rainbow. I had coach loads of hippies beating a path to my door just to sit and gaze at it. “How does it feel?” they would ask. “Tender,” I’d say. There was no better word. I couldn’t so much as tickle it without letting out an involuntary honk, like a donkey backing onto a cactus.

So that was ‘tender’ in the ‘soft and sensitive’ sense of the word. But in any given week you might come across ‘tender’ in the form of ‘a nurse’, ‘currency’, ‘a formal offer or bid’, ‘the wagon that carries coal behind a steam train’, or ‘one of those little boats that are attached to the back of big boats’. Not necessarily in that order.

“How on earth do things like this happen?” you may well wonder.

Here’s the recipe. Take a bunch of Latin words, force them through a medieval French sieve, catapult them into England, muddle with a flagon of mead and leave to simmer with the lid off for a couple of centuries. In this case, the raw Latin ingredients were the adjective ‘tenerem’, meaning ‘delicate or youthful’, the verb, ‘tendere’, meaning ‘to extend’, and the extension of that, ‘attendere’, meaning ‘to attend to’ (literally ‘extending’ your attention to). The first two became ‘tendre’ in French and then ‘tender’ in English. The third became ‘attendre’ in French and ‘atenden’ in English, which was pared down over a gentle heat to ‘tend’. And thus the nurse became the ‘tender’.

I’ll give you a moment to digest that.

Right, onwards. This same derivation gave us the train bit and the boat bit, since both ‘attend’ to the mothership, so to speak. The ‘extend’ meaning gave us the formal offer, since you extend an offer, and that in turn gave us the currency, since you offer currency.

It’s important to understand all this so you don’t make the mistake of trying to commission F Scott Fitzgerald to write your bid documents, or thinking Elvis went around singing songs of devotion to the back end of locomotives. I’m not saying he didn’t – what Elvis did in his spare time was Elvis’ business, as far as I’m concerned – but I can state with complete confidence that Love Me Tender was not about a coal wagon.

Right, where’s the Arnica?

Need someone tender to attend to your tender writing tendencies? Extend your intention here.

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