My assumption is it derives from Genesis, but even if that's the case, what I'm really wondering is at what point did it become a common idiom in English, that could be used in contexts that don't have any clear reference to the biblical creation? As in, she breathed new life into the abstract art scene, etc.

  • 3
    Two things to consider in your assumption: 1. In Genesis Chap. 2, God breathes life into Adam, not new life. 2. Mouth to mouth resuscitation was invented in 1740. Maybe it was a thing unofficially before then. Anyway, maybe look to that for the etymology. – Damila Oct 27 '19 at 3:12
  • @Damila - good thought, thanks – Random Oct 27 '19 at 3:25
  • We get a lot of expressions from the Bible. My guess is there. – marcellothearcane Oct 27 '19 at 6:21

The expression appears in writing, according to Google Books, from the late 18th century, but there are probably earlier usages, one that is worth mentioning is from Shakespeare’s “All's Well That Ends Well” Act 2, scene 1, 72–78:

I have seen a medicine

That's able to breathe life into a stone,

Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary

The site enotes.com comments that:

Applying poetic images to convince the skeptical king, Lafew claims that Helena's medicine can "breathe life into a stone" and, synonymously, "Quicken a rock" (the images may derive from Genesis 2:7).

From Genesis 2:7

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.


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