I'm a little confused about the meaning of the word 'snort'.

Vocabulary.com says that "A snort is a sound you make by suddenly exhaling through your nose, especially if you're disgusted by something. Your response to your little brother's temper tantrum might be a disdainful snort. You can use the word snort as a noun or a verb — students might find it hard not to snort when they're listening to a boring and endless lecture by their vice principal."

The first definition that Collins gives is "When people or animals snort, they breathe air noisily out through their noses. People sometimes snort in order to express disapproval or amusement."

Cambridge dictionary instead says that to snort means "to make an explosive sound by forcing air quickly up or down the nose".

The first thing that you might have noticed (see bold text) is that Vocabulary and Collins say that snort is about giving off air, while Cambridge includes also inhalation.

To make sure that I got the definition right, I looked for videos ( 1 and 2 ) on youtube and I had confirmation that a snort is a piglike sound that we can do through the nose. Also, the people in the videos only inhaled--I tried to do it by exhaling, but I wasn't able to.

Anyway, here comes the most important part of this query. I lived in England for years, and have been watching English movies regularly (in the original language) for almost twenty years. I've never heard anyone do that piglike sound to express disdain or boredom. Only a few people do it--everywhere in the world, as far as I know--only when they laugh hard, like in the video (2) I linked. Otherwise, we do it when we want to imitate a pig or when we snore, although a snore is usually softer and longer than a snort.

I searched the translation in my native language, Italian, and I got a word ('sbuffare', if that can help) that refers to a sound that is not quite the same as the one described. It is more like a sigh that starts with a "b" or "p"; like a puff. (Notice the onomatopoeic similarity between 'sbuffare' and 'puff'.) So it involves only emitting air, and it is mainly through the mouth. We do it when we're bored or want to express disapproval, disdain, or frustration. Definitely not amusement, as Collins says. The problem is that 'puff' in English is only used in reference to smoking or physical exertion.

So, my questions are:

  • Do people really do that piglike sound when they are bored?
  • Is 'snort' a kind of umbrella term that can refer to different sounds, and people have to figure out the kind of snort according to the context?
  • Can I use the verb 'puff' to express frustration or boredom, rather than physical exertion?
  • I believe that the snort is a comment about the absurdity of a boring speaker, not a symptom of boredom itself. Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


A 'snort' is really the sound created by either inhaling or exhaling through the nose. Different contexts tend to mean it is one or the other.

For example, a derisive snort (expressing disapproval) is normally an exhalation, like a vocal expression would be. But the sound created could be replicated by an inhalation. It normally expresses derision, not boredom. The most common expression associated with boredom would be a sigh, or any other slow, breathy exhalation through the mouth or forced through the teeth (like a 'pffff' sound).

'Snort' does have many other uses - it is the noise a pig makes, it can be a loud laugh ("he snorted with laughter") and it can also be used to denote anger or angry speech. The word 'puff' could express frustration or boredom, but also breathlessness, exhaling smoke, and probably other things too. As always, context helps us understand what it means.

Note that the word 'snort' is also used to describe nasal drug delivery - taking a narcotic up the nose. This isn't necessarily because a snorting noise is made, nevertheless, this action describes an inhalation for the intended purpose.

  • I can only do that sarcastic scornful snort by inhaling through my nose, and trying to imitate someone snoring. I think nasal anatomy differs from person to person (also I broke my nose falling off a motorcycle when I was 22). Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 11:08
  • @MichaelHarvey I can only whistle by inhaling, but that isn't the norm, either.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 11:09
  • @MichaelHarvey So can I, and I've never broken my nose. Also the people in the videos I linked inhale.
    – Fra
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 11:09
  • @Astralbee - I have never been able to whistle, and my attempts to do so have always provoked merriment. When I was at school, received schoolboy wisdom had it that 'only eunuchs can't whistle'. Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 11:15

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