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The book series "The Wheel of Time" frequently talks about characters "sniffing" at someone.

Here are a few examples:

“ ‘Poke the meekest dog too often,’ “ Elayne quoted, “ ‘and he will bite.’ Not that Lan is very meek.” She got a sharp look and a sniff from Nynaeve.

Or this one:

Her smile became a grin that made Elayne sniff disapprovingly

It doesn't seem natural to think of someone inhaling air through their nose in these situations... So what does it really mean?

1 Answer 1

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A sniff (drawing air through the nose in a short, audible inhalation) is sometimes used as a sign of contempt. See Dictionary.com:

4. to show disdain, contempt, etc., by or as by sniffing.

Nynaeve is disparaging Elayne's comment by the sniff. Note that a sniff can be a haughty way to express disdain, as if words would be too much to waste.

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  • +1. Good answer. Interestingly, when you sniff at someone in disdain I think you actually exhale air in a small burst through your nose. Try it.
    – JLG
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 2:55
  • I think it works either way :)
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 2:58
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    @JLG, no, that would be a derisive snort, not a sniff. I prefer to sniff, as it reduces the risk of making a mess.
    – user16269
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 3:43
  • :) I snorted with laughter then, but daintily.
    – JLG
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 3:46
  • This is a good answer, and is as expected... the problem I find is that it seems unnatural. As you talk you exhale. Are you really going to stop talking/exhaling just to then sharply inhale? It just doesn't seem to flow well. Likewise, as I'm reading these novels, I find it strange to imagine the characters "inhaling" anytime they sniff at someone.
    – bugfixr
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 15:08

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