Breathe a Word (to not)

Variations:

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


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Usage

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.”

Examples Of Use

” 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.”

Origin

The word breathe has been used to mean “to utter” since the 1500’s, so that the idiom translates to “not utter a word.”

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

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Sources   [ + ]

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.