to mutter between one's teeth

  • BellaDancer

    Senior Member
    Hello! I would like to know the meaning of the idiom to mutter between one's teeth. Couldn't you give some examples, as well?
    It is like "under one's breath."
    It is muttered -- spoken in a quiet and almost garbled way -- without the lips moving -- "between one's teeth" -- in order to be heard and understood by no-one or only by the person closest to the speaker, not by others around them.


    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Hi, I just want to check with you if "spoke between his teeth" also means he spoke "under one's breath."?

    : "Was it unclear what I meant, when I said "keep her safe"?" Maxwell spoke between his teeth.

    "Perfectly clear. Have you advice as to how" William said.

    Source: Timepiece, Heather Albano

    Background:In the face of a looming storm, Maxwell, William and Elizabeth settled in a rundown barn close to the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815. They had been working on a plan to change the course of the battle by preventing Duke Wellington from using a monster battalion that would wreak havoc on the country's future. Maxwell had never intended to include Elizabeth in the plan, as he thought it'd be too dangerous for a girl. Being a feisty girl who was ready to take on the challenge, Elizabeth insisted on her involvement in the execution of the plan. What frustrated Maxwell more was that her friend William was on her side on this one.


    English - England
    No, it isn't. Maxwell is extremely angry - furious. He places his top incisors on his lower incisors and almost spits out the words. He thus speaks between his teeth (also 'through his teeth')


    Moderate Mod
    No, and in fact I'm going to have to disagree with BellaDancer as well. "Between his teeth" is kind of odd. It has a certain similarity to a couple of other expressions:
    "Spoke with clenched teeth" or "spoke from between clenched teeth" which mean "was so angry or irritated that he had to keep his jaw clenched tightly."
    "Kept his tongue between his teeth" (or sometimes "bit down on his tongue"), which means "made a special effort to control what he said."

    But "spoke between his teeth" isn't familiar to me. I would guess that it indicates irritation or even anger because of the reference to teeth, and I would also guess that it doesn't have anything to do with the volume at which Maxwell spoke.

    (Cross-posted with Paul. How nice that we agree!)


    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thanks PaulQ and JustKate. If I hadn't asked in the first place, I would have taken it to mean "under one's breath". His speaking with apparent anger didn't cross my mind. Perhaps it's because I've seldom touched the tip of my tongue to the teeth when I'm speaking with irritation in Cantonese


    Moderate Mod
    It doesn't have anything to do with the position of the tongue. My apologies if my references to the related expressions involving the tongue misled you. "Clenched teeth" refers to the way many people clench their jaws (that is, clamp their jaws together and hold them together tightly) when they are angry.

    Even the variation "tongue between his teeth" that I mentioned is intended to be metaphorical - it has nothing to do with the actual position of the tongue when one is angry. The expression is a bit of hyperbole that means "I kept my tongue between my teeth so that I wouldn't be able to talk" (and thus say something unwise). Try to talk while holding your tongue between your teeth and I think you'll see where the expression comes from.
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