Is there a term for when a person is getting really irritated/frustrated by someone, but they don't want to yell, so they do that thing where they exhale sharply through their nose?

Say, for example, in customer support the operator has to explain and re-explain a procedure over and over, but the caller can never seem to get it right.

To be clear, I'm talking about the act of blowing air out of the nose when angry/frustrated as opposed to breathing an exasperated sigh out of the mouth. It's just air; there's no vocalization or loud sound like a snort.

  • 1
    @interploy: For most contexts it's inhalation = sniff, exhalation = snort. But actually a "disdainful sniff" is far more likely to involve exhalation. Compare tutting, which in my experience nearly always involves air being taken into the mouth, rather than being forced out. Feb 8, 2015 at 15:09
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    To clarify, the sound made by breathing out through the nose while obstructing that sound in kind of a rough nasal aspiration is commonly what we mean when we say snort.
    – Robusto
    Feb 8, 2015 at 15:28
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    @interpoloy: No, "sighing through the nose" is not the correct phrase. It is a decidedly inferior phrase that will only serve to confuse people, no matter what Fumblefingers tells you.
    – Robusto
    Feb 8, 2015 at 15:29
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    @interploy: I think we're well into the territory of "writing advice" by now. But no - I don't think your version works so well, because suppressed implies he didn't "let it out" at all. With my suggested let out a suppressed sigh it's obvious at least some "exhalation" took place. Probably through the nose, since you don't want to use your mouth because it's so close to your phone mic, but in most contexts no-one would care much about that level of detail. And the "exasperated" aspect should be obvious in almost any real-world context. Feb 8, 2015 at 15:52
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    @Robusto: A suppressed sigh implies exasperation and I can just leave it to the reader if that is done through the nose or mouth.
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 16:47

5 Answers 5


"Huff" would be the word that I have seen used for this. It was difficult to come up with a list of citations - The surnames Huff and Huffington cluttered up the results. A. A. Milne apparently believes that snails "huffle" when they are in danger. That's a small joke - see his poem "Four Friends".

  • OED: huffle n. a sudden gust of wind, or the sound made by this. The actual sound of a sudden gust would presumably be as insignificant as James the huffling snail. Feb 8, 2015 at 17:09
  • This actually might be the word I'm looking for. When you say "huff" or "huffed", is that a state of being angry or an action you do when angry?
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:18
  • When you huff you make a small burst of air out through your nose. If someone says you are "huffing and puffing" they mean that you are exerting yourself and breathing in and out very forcefully. If you huff because you are slightly angry and or disgusted, you close your mouth and make a very slight puff out through your nose. Some one on the other end of a phone conversion might or might not hear you. You can also "walk off in a huff" because you've been pushed too far.
    – undefined
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:02
  • That sounds exactly like what I mean then, thanks! I'm glad there was a term for it after all.
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:15
  • @interploy Glad to help. English is a very expressive language.
    – undefined
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:19

Perhaps humph

\a snort articulated as a syllabic m or n with a voiceless onset and ending in a nasal h or a glottal stop; often read as ˈhəm(p)f\ Definition of HUMPH

—used to express doubt or contempt

This nasal interjection is distinct from the throaty interjection, harrumph

  • to clear the throat in a pompous way

  • to comment disapprovingly

which can be verbal or on-verbal.

both Merriam-Webster

  • this is really close. Is there a noiseless version of "humph"? I guess not entirely noiseless, but air only, no vocalization?
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:11
  • I think snort is probably the closest of you wan't to sounds but air.
    – bib
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:26
  • Snort implies a much louder sound than what I'm thinking of. This is more the level of a sigh.
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:38

Although dictionaries do not explicitly support it, writers of closed captioning for film and TV seem consistently to have settled on the verb scoff to indicate this specific manner of expressing contempt or irritation. (The word more generally signifies expressing derision by whatever means.) Flaring one’s nostrils is an associated physical sign, though of course that can be done without any such sharp exhalation as is here inquired about.

  • The meaning is good, but I usually see "scoff" in relation to some kind of vocalization, which I'm trying to avoid.
    – interduo
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:57

Suspirates would be the closest description, but not commonly used.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Please note that this is not a discussion forum, but a Q&A site which seeks to provide definitive answers. As such, your answer would be greatly strengthened with an explanation— why would you propose suspirates? What is its dictionary definition? What are some examples in literature or journalism? I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Oct 20, 2016 at 3:10

It depends on the type of sound that comes with the air blowing out of the nose. If you're looking for a word that describes the same kind of soft sound that comes out of the mouth when a person sighs, I would call it the same word--a sigh. A snort makes a completely different sound and is also used to describe inhalation. I can't think of another word that makes the same kind of soft sound, so I would apply "sigh" when it comes out of the either the mouth or the nose.

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