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Under one's breath

Posted by Martin Flanaman 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

Boswell also used it in 'Life of Johnson', 1799.