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What Does It Mean to "Foam at the Mouth"?

"Foaming at the mouth" typically indicates extreme anger or excitement, causing someone to produce excess saliva. It can also signify a medical emergency, such as a seizure or rabies. This vivid expression paints a picture of intense emotion or distress. Curious about the origins of this phrase or how it's used in different contexts? Join us as we explore the fascinating details.
Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

The English idiom "foam at the mouth" is easy to understand once it has been explained. It simply means to be extremely enraged. The expression comes from one of the symptoms of rabies seen in dogs, cats, and other mammals. A person who begins to foam at the mouth is dangerously out of control with anger, cannot be calmed or controlled, and should be avoided.

Rabies is less common now than it once was, so the expression isn’t as transparent as it would have been when it was first coined. In the earlier part of the 20th century, even urban dwellers had more opportunity to see animals that were rabid because, even after vaccines became available, many pet owners didn’t vaccinate. In addition, pet dogs and cats were permitted free access to the streets and mingled there with feral animals. It was not uncommon for animals in homes as well as in the streets to suddenly begin to foam at the mouth and display other signs of rabies.

Rabid animals lose all control and appear to be crazed with anger. They are unable to swallow, so bubbly drool falls out of their open mouths. Rabid animals will attack anyone who comes near, even a beloved owner or someone who is trying to help.

"Foam at the mouth" originated from the symptom of rabies seen in cats and dogs.
"Foam at the mouth" originated from the symptom of rabies seen in cats and dogs.

The expression is a form of hyperbole. Hyperbole is a literary device that exaggerates or overstates an idea or image for effect, and it is common in idioms such as this one. Obviously, even the most irate people don’t literally foam at the mouth the way a rabid animal does. Nonetheless, when a boss, spouse, or even a stranger is so furious that all control has been lost, the target of the anger might feel as afraid as they would if that person were indeed rabid.

Rabies is transmitted through saliva, and typically manifests in humans or animals who have been bitten by a victim of the disease.
Rabies is transmitted through saliva, and typically manifests in humans or animals who have been bitten by a victim of the disease.

Not only used to describe someone else, people often incorporate this idiom into a story they are telling about how something made them very angry. The typical narrative in which the speaker self-identifies as foaming at the mouth is generally delivered with a sense of amazement, as though the speaker’s behavior was so far outside the norm that it was unrecognizable. This aligns with the reality of rabies because rabid animals behave against their natures. Nocturnal creatures such as raccoons or bats appear during the day, passive pets become vicious, and energetic animals behave as though they are exhausted.

The expression "foam at the mouth" might be used to describe feelings of intense anger.
The expression "foam at the mouth" might be used to describe feelings of intense anger.

Rabies is transmitted through bites, and people in the presence of a rabid animal should move away from it as quickly as possible. Anyone who is confronted by someone “foaming at the mouth” is also best off stepping away from the situation. That is because those who have reached that level of anger are, like truly rabid animals, far beyond reason.

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    • "Foam at the mouth" originated from the symptom of rabies seen in cats and dogs.
      By: Ermolaev Alexandr
      "Foam at the mouth" originated from the symptom of rabies seen in cats and dogs.
    • Rabies is transmitted through saliva, and typically manifests in humans or animals who have been bitten by a victim of the disease.
      By: absolutimages
      Rabies is transmitted through saliva, and typically manifests in humans or animals who have been bitten by a victim of the disease.
    • The expression "foam at the mouth" might be used to describe feelings of intense anger.
      By: olly
      The expression "foam at the mouth" might be used to describe feelings of intense anger.
    • Someone who is "foaming at the mouth" might become suddenly angry without warning.
      By: amyinlondon
      Someone who is "foaming at the mouth" might become suddenly angry without warning.