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I'm writing a motivational piece of text and I'd like to write the following:

The human body will work until the last _____ of oxygen is depleted.

I'm not sure what would be the proper measure for oxygen. I don't want drop of oxygen, because I'm using that later for drop of blood.

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This question can be improved by adding the references you checked before asking, what you found, and why the results were inadequate. Please check the faq for more on basic site etiquette. – MετάEd Sep 13 '12 at 12:50
Are you asking in a medical, sports, metaphoric or other context? – bib Sep 13 '12 at 13:02
For creative suggestions, you should try writersSE. Voting to close as not a real question: likely to lead to a debate. – Kris Sep 13 '12 at 13:22
Oxygen is a gas, so it is measured in litres. – Matt E. Эллен Sep 13 '12 at 14:06
In geek speak: molecule, atom, mole. In poetic speech: vestige, trace, wisp. In clueless speech: gallon, piece, school. – Mitch Sep 13 '12 at 15:21

I would consider "the last ounce of oxygen". It has a pleasant alliteration and among its definitions is "a small amount". Although it may not lend itself well to literal interpretation, it sounds like that's not the intent here.

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Or "milliliter of oxygen" if you're not an American, I suppose. – Jay Sep 13 '12 at 14:16
@Jay Then you lose the mellifluousness! Although I like the consonance in "milliliter" on its own. – Zairja Sep 13 '12 at 14:24

I'll put my money on "molecule".

But I don't know if this statement would actually be true... ;)

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It wouldn't be. But that doesn't make it sound any less cool. – rsegal Sep 13 '12 at 13:35
Any more than it would be true to say "last drop of blood". Both are, perhaps, a poetic exaggeration, depending on the context. – Jay Sep 13 '12 at 14:09

How about:

The human body will work until the last breath of oxygen is depleted.

I like that wording partly because that's how oxygen is brought into the body, generally speaking. Moreover, the word breath is sometimes used figuratively as well (as in breath of fresh air, or breath of a scandal, e.g.), so you needn't be overly concerned about using the word to mean a small, indeterminate amount, because there's precedent for that.

So, you wouldn't necessarily be referring to a literal last breath of oxygen – but you're not referring to a literal last drop of blood, either, so I assume that wouldn't be a problem.

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The statement is not factually correct unless the measure is 'the minimum amount needed to function'. So something like gasp would be best:

"... will work until the last gasp of oxygen ...".

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If you mean that breathing has stopped and it's using up oxygen in the system then you would normally say "the last reserves of oxygen"

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I wouldn't use work, but function for this kind of sentence; I also would work around the issue with a more generic:

The human body will continue to function as long as there is enough oxygen available.

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Blood oxygen is measured as a percentage of saturation. This is a good explanation.

So if you don't mind sounding overly technical, I suppose you could say:

The human body will work until the last percentage of oxygen is depleted.

The human body will work until its blood oxygen saturation drops to 0%.

The human body will work until its blood oxygen level drops to 0%.

Or you could say,"The human body will work until the last atom of oxygen is depleted."

(The body might actually quit working at a much higher percentage than 0%, but I'll leave that to you to ferret out.)

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The OP did ask about the "proper measure for oxygen." – JLG Sep 13 '12 at 13:52
This is good if the writer wants to make a technical statement, like "body will function until the blood oxygen levels falls below 6%" (or whatever the number is -- I just made that number up). But I think from the phrasing of the question he's looking for a less-technical wording. "This diet forces me to count every calorie I eat" has a rather different tone then "This diet requires me to measure the food I eat with an accuracy of at least plus or minus two ounces." – Jay Sep 13 '12 at 14:16
“...until the last atom of oxygen...” works as hyperbole, but molecule is more accurate, as it is O_2 that binds to hemoglobin, rather than O. – jwpat7 Sep 13 '12 at 18:28

I would go with 'whiff of oxygen'

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Gasses are measured by volume (at STP), using the SI unit of cubic meters. The concentration of oxygen that's part of the air we breathe, a mixture containing other gasses, is measured in parts-per-X.

E.g., Earth's atmosphere contains 209,460 parts-per-million of oxygen by volume, or roughly 20%.

Of note for respiration, the partial pressure of oxygen is more important than its PPM (ehstoday.com: Confined Spaces).

I'd use, "...until the last drop of oxygenated blood reaches the brain" and "that same drop of blood..." for the other sentence. Blood does a lot of stuff.

Also note: the human body will stop working way1 before its last vestiges of oxygen are depleted.

1: to be read with echo, reverb and chorus.

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