Don’t hold your breath is an idiom that has been in use since the 1800s, but its use was not widespread until the mid-1900s. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom don’t hold your breath, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.
Don’t hold your breath is an admonition not to count on something happening; not to expect that something will come to pass; that something they are anticipating is unlikely to occur. The idea is that one will die from holding his breath before the situation in question will happen. The idiom don’t hold your breath originated in America, and may be related to an idiom derived from Shakespeare: to wait with bated breath. The word bated is an abbreviation of the word abated, meaning to lessen in severity or amount, or to hold one’s breath. People often hold their breaths when stressed or excited.
But don’t hold your breath waiting on an arrest or conviction of the four Minneapolis police officers who were fired as a result of Floyd’s death. (The Salina Journal)
In a perfect world politicians on both sides of the aisle would be working on such comprehensive reform, but don’t hold your breath waiting for meaningful legislation any time soon, especially in an election year. (The Daily Inter Lake)
Well, don’t hold your breath, because it isn’t going to happen! (The Daily Press)