what do call the steam comes out of your mouth when cold?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by english kimberly, Sep 28, 2008.

  1. english kimberly New Member

    what do you call the steam that comes out of your mouth when it's cold? is it called steam? vapor?
  2. ace02nc Senior Member

    English - United States
    In AE we typically call it steam.
  3. Nikola Senior Member

    I have never heard steam or vapor in common AE. Although it does look like them. I often hear we can see our breath.
  4. Aquilon New Member

    USA (Philadelphia)
    US English
    "You can see your breath" means that it's cold; I don't know that we use a substantive for the vapor itself.

    On the other hand, so say that someone is "steaming" or that you could see the "steam coming out of his ears" indicates rage that is barely contained.
  5. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    The WRD defines "steam" as "water at boiling temperature diffused in the atmosphere"

    Obviously, one does not exhale anything at boiling temperature. Like Nikola, I haven't heard it applied to exhaled breath in cold air.

    Note, however, that when we exhale so that our breath causes condensation on eyeglasses, for example, we call it "fogging."
  6. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Another vote for "breath." (Eastern AE)
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum <<PongoMod>> EO'Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Despite the precise definition of steam (taken literally it is something that we cannot see) it is normal usage here (at least) to refer to kettles steaming, wet clothes steaming, sweaty people steaming, and so on. We also talk about windows or spectacles being steamed up. The stuff we can see may not, strictly speaking, be steam, but that's what we call it.

    However, that stuff coming out of your mouth on a winter's morning is breath :)
  8. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    It seems your looking for a specific term to call this.

    It's called "breath vapor."

  9. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This sceptic isle!
    Northwest Englandish
    Another vote for plain breath.
  10. Elwintee Senior Member

    London England
    England English
    Forgive me, AngelEyes, but as this forum is much used by learners I must point out that 'your' above should read 'you're'. It's an easy typo to make! :)
  11. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    "You can see your breath" is the only expression I've ever heard in natural speech.
  12. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States

    Oh, good grief. I can't believe I did that! Thanks for pointing it out. Your You're absolutely correct. :rolleyes:

    The reason I offered my suggestion is because I think english kimberly was looking for a term. I agree in casual speech you'd just say, "I can see my breath." Or some similar sentence.

    But if you want to call it "something" - then that's exactly what it is: breath vapor.

    breath vapor

  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum <<PongoMod>> EO'Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hmmm - there are no instances of breath vapour in the British National Corpus (BNC); one of breath vapor in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). I'd stick with breath.
    It's so cold you can see your breath.
    There are a lot of instances of see * breath.
    Well, when I say a lot I mean one in the BNC, 58 in COCA :)
  14. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Well, I'm sure that if you need a name to categorize a group of photos, "breath vapor" would work. But that is not how I would answer the question in post 1 "what do you call the steam that comes out of your mouth when it's cold? is it called steam? vapor?" We just call it our breath. What we see is our breath.

    Breath vapor is a coined term, but not a natural one.
  15. johndot Senior Member

    English - England
    Google recognises lots of “the vapor/vapour/steam * breath” with just the right meaning.
  16. mjscott Senior Member

    In context I would say, "It was so cold we could see our breath."
    "I could see my breath!"
    "Whaddaya mean it's not cold! I'm sittin' here watching your breath, wonderin' if you've got a cigarette hidden...."
  17. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States

    If someone asked me what was coming out of my mouth in a warm room, I'd say it's my breath.

    And, likewise, I might even say it if they asked me outside in the snow.

    But if someone asked me right after that, "What do you call that cloudy, white stuff that your breath is making?"

    I'd say, "Well, I guess that would be breath vapor."

    But that's me. I always get really technical when asked. Sometimes when I'm not asked. :cool:

  18. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Sorry, AngelEyes, my vote would also go for "breath" (as in "I can see my breath").

    I think what's going on here is that you are a creative writer:D
  19. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    "I can see steam coming out of your mouth" would have been said to me on cold days, long ago, by my mother.

    It's simply called steam coming out of my/your/etc. mouth. I believe my mother! :)


    Note it is technically nearly impossible unless you have a tube in your mouth that is letting out steam!

    PS Breath is generally very explicit (on a cold day)
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2008
  20. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Why, thank you, Loobinski! :D

    Buuuuuttttt, she says, to the background of British and Irish, and nuns-ish groans...

    english kimberly asked:

    She didn't ask us how to say it:
    I can see my breath.

    She asked us if that white, cloudy stuff has a name. Heck, I'd say both her words would work. It's a white, cloudy vapor that looks like steam.

    Sure, it is your breath, but when you can see it, you all have to admit you can call that a vapor.

    Then again, if kimberly has never heard of the word breath and that's all she was asking about...I guess I'm wrong. She did specify it was cold, though, so I assumed she was being specific.

  21. ojt New Member

    Liverpool, England
    English - England
    I have read all of these posts and I am pretty convinced I have never called it vapor or breath, I would call it condensation.

    e.g. It's cold out here today, look at the condensation when I breath/talk.
  22. ace02nc Senior Member

    English - United States
    I commonly hear "my breath is steaming" or "you can see my breath".
  23. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    It is water vapour; why not call it that.There is always water vapour in exhaled breath, but in the cold it condenses.
  24. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Because we don't call it that: we say "I can/could see my breath".
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2008
  25. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    It seams the general consensus is breath, the most widely used expression. If the poster wants to know if other expressions can be used then I would say yes with the warning that they are not universally used.
  26. adamkade New Member

    I have busy writing and have often find myself coming to this site for the right word to use. Breath vapour is perfect, thanks very much.
  27. Shoey666

    Shoey666 New Member

    English - England
    We always used to call it "dragon's breath", but like most things that seems to have been perverted and corrupted to a sexual connotation nowadays!
  28. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Here are a few references: These first two are explanations of the phenomenon itself, so you can see how they talk about it:

    Visible Breath

    Why Can We See Our Breath on a Cold Winter Day? | The Classroom | Synonym

    I've found a couple citations of this being called "breath's mist" here (in a very literary register, that would not be used in ordinary discourse)

    "Her name is still lost, yet I recall us huddled in the bed we shared as children, our breath's mist visible in the cold moonlight that we opened the shutters" from Snakewood by Adrian Selby
    "...become the breath's mist on the mirror" from In The Realm of the Senses: A Materialist Theory of Seeing and Feeling by Stuart Walton

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