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Under one's breath

Posted by Pamela on October 10, 2007

In Reply to: Under one's breath posted by Smokey Stover on October 10, 2007

: : What is the origin of the phrase "under his (or her) breath"?

: This requires a little guessing, I think. The Italian equivalent is "sotto voce," that is, under the voice. When you're speaking "sotto voce" you are, of course, using your voice. But not using it, shall we say, fully, not using your full breath or your full voice to give resonance to the vowels and emphasize the consonants. We are using only a little breath, perhaps whispering. The Oxford English Dictionary lists, as the first printed example they found, one in an 1832 novel by Bulwer-Lytton.
: SS

One level down from "under your breath" is subvocalisation - where you move your lips and the larynx also moves, but no sound is produced. This is common in children who have just learned to read silently, people who learn to read late in life, or in all of us when we are concentrating while reading something difficult or when we are trying to memorize the content. Pamela