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shameless pleading






Huh. I always thought the fuel for a train was kept in the bar car.

Dear Word Detective: “Tender” is a noun, a verb and an adjective. Noun: A small boat used to transport people and goods between ship and shore. Also, the railroad car which typically carried fuel for the locomotive. Verb: “I tender my resignation,” also seen as “amount tendered” on receipts at Wendy’s and similar places. Adjective: As in “tender steak” or “tender feelings.” Are any of these meanings related? — Allan Pratt.

Wendy’s gives receipts? I haven’t been there in a long time, probably because I haven’t eaten a hamburger in almost 20 years. The late Dave Thomas, who founded Wendy’s, owned a house on a private island in the middle of Buckeye Lake, near us here in central Ohio. The house and island were up for sale as of a few months ago, in case you’ve always wanted to live in the middle of a lake in Ohio. We can talk about my finder’s fee later.

There’s a short answer to your question, and it is “yes.” All those kinds of “tender” are related, if somewhat remotely. The noun “tender” first appeared in the early 16th century, originally meaning a person who “tends,” or cares for or waits upon another, such as a nurse or waiter. That underlying verb “to tend” is actually a short form of “to attend,” which harks back to the Latin “tendere,” meaning “to stretch” (which also gave us “extend,” “intend,” “pretend” and several other English words). Yet further back we find the Indo-European root “ten,” which carried the general sense of “stretch” (and underlies such words as “tenuous” and “tenant”). In “tend” that “stretch” sense conveyed management and control. “Tender” went on to be used for the “small boat” and railway uses you mention, as well as becoming a job title of someone in charge of something, such as a “bridge-tender” or, probably closer to home, your local “bar-tender” (which is no longer hyphenated).

“Tender” as a verb first appeared a bit later in the 16th century meaning “to offer or submit for acceptance,” as one might “tender” a plea in court or “tender” an offer on a house. This “tender” came from the French “tendre,” meaning “to hold out,” i.e., to hand money or an official paper to a clerk. That French “tendre” is rooted in our old friend the Latin “tendere” (“to stretch”), and, further back, the trusty Indo-European “ten.”

“Tender” as an adjective meaning “delicate, easily injured,” “succulent, easily chewed” or “gentle, soft, loving”  may seem unrelated to the above, but it too can be traced back to the Indo-European “ten.” In this case, the route was through the Latin “tener,” meaning “delicate or tender,” and “tender” is closely related to our English “tendril,” a delicate young shoot of a plant reaching out as it grows.

1 comment to Tender

  • Louise

    But, but, but what about legal tender? Is that an extension of the verb (“stuff that can be tendered”) or something entirely unrelated?

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