breathe down one's neck

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Senior Member
Invalid - I can understand the figurative meaning of "breathe down one's neck", but can not figure out why it is used like that - watch somebody too closely. In this idiom, I think "down one's neck" is the same as "down the road", so join the "breathe" would mean "make the exhalation down one's neck", one scene I can imagin is you're taking a examination, the supervisor is standing by you, watching you so harshly which makes you so lower down your head that the air out of your body flows down your neck. But with a second thought and try, I find it's impossible to do this unless your neck is enough long. So my conclusion is maybe it's a exaggrative expression, but I doubt this.

Valid - I'm sorry, after I have posted the content above, I suddenly find I have made a huge mistake, in the example above, the subject who breathes down your neck is supervisor not the recipient - the supervisor is so close to your face that his exhalation touches your neck. With this interpretation, all make sense. Thank you for taking and sorry for wasting your time.
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    Senior Member
    American English
    I think you're perhaps over-analyzing this. :D

    I always envisioned a large animal -- let's say a bear -- chasing you and being close enough to breathe down your neck. "Down" because he's taller than you. "Neck" because it's often exposed and can feel the hot breath of death on its tender skin. :p

    (And many animals kill by attacking the neck of their prey.)


    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I've always pictured the supervisor standing right behind the other person, almost touching him, looking over his shoulder and breathing on his neck....
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