2

Is 'breath off in a razor' an idiom?
I saw it from a book, which goes like this.

When all of a sudden he was paralyzed into a listening attitude and that smile faded gradually out of his countenance like breath off'n a razor,and the queerest look of surprise took its place.

Source: Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

3
  • 2
    If you breathe upon a razor's blade, moisture from your breath will precipitate on it, making it opaque, but it will soon start to evaporate, turning it "clear" and mirrorlike again. It is not a stock expression or idiom but a simile coined by the author, possibly to facilitate suspence, since razor blades are used not only for shaving. Jul 23, 2015 at 7:43
  • Looks like the answer to me @CopperKettle
    – Preston
    Jul 23, 2015 at 9:54
  • 3
    Note that off'n is dialect for off of, not off in. And this was written in the 19th century, before the advent of safety razors, so what Twain has in mind is something like this. Jul 23, 2015 at 11:39

1 Answer 1

5

If you breathe upon a razor's blade, moisture from your breath will precipitate on it, making it opaque, but it will soon start to evaporate, turning it clear and mirrorlike again. It is not a stock expression or idiom but a simile coined by the author.

Thus, to simplify,

The character's smile faded out of his countenance just like a layer of mist fades from a razor's blade.

Notice how people sometimes make knives and spoons shiny or lenses more transparent by first breathing on them in order to moisten them, then wiping them with a clean cloth.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .