Breathe a Word (to not)

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(not) breathe a word about (something)
(not) breathe a word of (something)

Meaning of Idiom 'To Not Breathe a Word'

To not breathe a word about something means to keep a secret and not tell anyone about it; to not reveal something. 1,2


Negation, in some form, is always necessary for using this idiom. We never say, "I will breathe a word." We might say, however, "If you breathe a word about this, I will never speak to you again."


" I don't think Karen will breathe a word about this."

"I'm planning a birthday party for George. Don't breathe a word about it!"

"I promise I won't breathe a word to anyone about your promotion."

"Now that you know the entire plan, please don't breathe a word of it."

"I'll tell you everything you want to know but you have to promise to not breathe a word of it."


The word breathe has been used to mean "to utter" since the 1500's, so that the idiom translates to "not utter a word." 2

The full idiom has been in use since at least the late 1700's.

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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