In cold weather, we get water vapour coming out of the mouth as we breathe. What is that called?

  • If that link is why I got the negative vote, can you please see the two answers below? There doesn't seem to be an agreed upon answer -- hence my question. – recluze Jan 7 '13 at 15:43
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    The downvote is because the question shows no research effort. The link contains the same information as both the answers. – Hugo Jan 7 '13 at 15:47
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    @Hugo: while that thread could possibly used as the basis of an answer, it is not even remotely an authoritative source, and the website it's on is not a general reference. (You can find lots of answers on the internet, but that doesn't mean they're correct answers.) – Marthaª Jan 7 '13 at 15:53
  • Not quite the same issue, but here is my very first question on ELU (sigh, nostalgia), about water vapour rising from a body of water; there were many different opinions. english.stackexchange.com/questions/63677/… – JAM Jan 7 '13 at 15:55

This is simply called "breath", with no special word for the visible form. We often call this phenomenon "seeing one's breath":

It's so cold I can see my breath!

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    That's disappointing :( – recluze Jan 7 '13 at 15:40
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    @recluze Why? There is no special single word for most things. – Mark Beadles Jan 7 '13 at 15:45
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    This "single-word-request" idea is a mistake, I think. It's like asking for the single Chinese character for any concept. Mostly there isn't one. There are compounds, which are much more common, and there are constructions, which are vastly more important than single words (or characters). – John Lawler Jan 7 '13 at 15:53
  • @recluze: It's just the way you say things in English. 'Your breath is fogging up the window' works whether you can see the vapor in the air or not. – Mitch Jan 7 '13 at 17:22

I would call that steam (definition 2b from m-w.com: the mist formed by the condensation on cooling of water vapor); even though it is most commonly associated with boiling, the word can be applied to any vapor created due to a heat differential.

(one example from the definition page: Their breath steamed the windows.)

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    The condensation and fog formed a window or glass might be called "steam", but I don't believe the word properly applies to one's visible breath. – Mark Beadles Jan 7 '13 at 15:43
  • why does the condensation have to land on glass in order to be called steam? – Hellion Jan 7 '13 at 15:47
  • @Mark: As a matter of fact, people do sometimes refer to this vapor as "steam". From this website: When condensation occurs, the invisible water vapor changes from a gas to tiny particles of liquid water suspended in the air. This results in clouds or the visible steam that can come out of your mouth. The word steam isn't restricted to the vapor that comes from boiling; think of the expression steamy shower, for example. – J.R. Jan 7 '13 at 15:48
  • I downvoted it. I agree that people could and often do describe it with many circumlocutions like "visible steam that can come out of the mouth" or "clouds". I disagree that these are readily accepted and unambiguous terms, and calling the phenomenon "clouds" or "steam" on a regular basis will be regarded as either metaphorical or disfluent. – Mark Beadles Jan 7 '13 at 15:50
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    @J.R. I don't want to give the questioner the impression that the correct single word for the phenomenon is "steam" in the way that the single word for Canis familiaris is "dog". It could be steam, but it could be mist, it could be fog, it could be breath, it could be vapor, it could be "condensation droplets", depending on speaker choice. We don't call visible breath a special name. – Mark Beadles Jan 7 '13 at 16:00

comet-tail n. the tail of, or a tail like that of, a comet.

a1769 W. Falconer Descr. Ninety-gun Ship (R.), Its huge mast..From which a bloody pendant stretch'd afar Its comet-tail, denouncing ample war.

[OED] http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/36875?redirectedFrom=comet%20tail#eid8982889


Why not call it

the breath condensing into mist



It was so cold that I could see my breath condensing into mist.


an opaque mass of something in the atmosphere.

protected by user140086 Apr 28 '16 at 14:33

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