AskDefine | Define yawn

The Collaborative Dictionary

Yawn \Yawn\, n.
An involuntary act, excited by drowsiness, etc., consisting of a deep and long inspiration following several successive attempts at inspiration, the mouth, fauces, etc., being wide open. [1913 Webster] One person yawning in company will produce a spontaneous yawn in all present. --N. Chipman. [1913 Webster]
The act of opening wide, or of gaping. --Addison. [1913 Webster]
A chasm, mouth, or passageway. [R.] [1913 Webster] Now gape the graves, and trough their yawns let loose Imprisoned spirits. --Marston. [1913 Webster]
Yawn \Yawn\ (y[add]n), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Yawned; p. pr. & vb. n. Yawning.] [OE. yanien, [yogh]anien, ganien, gonien, AS. g[=a]nian; akin to ginian to yawn, g[imac]nan to yawn, open wide, G. g[aum]hnen to yawn, OHG. gin[=e]n, gein[=o]n, Icel. g[imac]na to yawn, gin the mouth, OSlav. zijati to yawn, L. hiare to gape, yawn; and perhaps to E. begin, cf. Gr. cheia` a hole. [root]47b. Cf. Begin, Gin to begin, Hiatus.] [1913 Webster]
To open the mouth involuntarily through drowsiness, dullness, or fatigue; to gape; to oscitate. "The lazy, yawning drone." --Shak. [1913 Webster] And while above he spends his breath, The yawning audience nod beneath. --Trumbull. [1913 Webster]
To open wide; to gape, as if to allow the entrance or exit of anything. [1913 Webster] 't is now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
To open the mouth, or to gape, through surprise or bewilderment. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
To be eager; to desire to swallow anything; to express desire by yawning; as, to yawn for fat livings. "One long, yawning gaze." --Landor. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

yawn n : an involuntary intake of breath through a wide open mouth; usually triggered by fatigue or boredom; "he could not suppress a yawn"; "the yawning in the audience told him it was time to stop"; "he apologized for his ostinancy" [syn: yawning, oscitance, oscitancy]


1 utter a yawn, as from lack of oxygen or when one is tired; "The child yawned during the long performance"
2 be wide open; "the deep gaping canyon" [syn: gape, yaw]




From etyl ang ginian, geonian.


  1. to open the mouth widely and take a long, rather deep breath, often because one is tired.
  2. to present an opening that appears able to swallow one up, literally or metaphorically:
    The canyon yawns as it has done for millions of years, and we stand looking, dumbstruck.
    Death yawned before us, and I hit the brakes.


open the mouth and take a deep breath


yawn (plural: yawns)
  1. the action of yawning; opening the mouth widely and taking a long, rather deep breath, often because one is tired.


the action of yawning
A yawn (from the Middle English yanen, an alteration of yonen or yenen, which in turn comes from the Old English geonian.), is a reflex of deep inhalation and exhalation of breath. Pandiculation is the term for the act of stretching and yawning simultaneously.
Yawning is associated with tiredness, stress, overwork, lack of stimulation, or boredom. Yawning can also be a powerful non-verbal message with several possible meanings, depending on the circumstances. In humans, yawing has the infectious quality, i.e. seeing a person yawing, or just thinking yawing, can trigger yawing which is typical example for positive feedback. The exact causes of yawning are still undetermined. The claim that yawning is caused by lack of oxygen has not been substantiated scientifically. Some claim that yawning is not caused by lack of oxygen, for the reason that yawning allegedly reduces oxygen intake compared to normal respiration. Another speculated reason for yawning is nervousness and is also claimed to help increase the state of alertness of a person - paratroopers were noted yawning right before their first jump.

Hypothesized causes of yawning

  1. The deep inhalation during a yawn is means of preventing alveolar collapse within the lung.
  2. The deep inhalation while yawning stretches type II alveolar pneumocytes, which release the surfactant dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) into the layer of fluid on the alveolar surface.
  3. A means of cooling the brain.
  4. An action used as an unconscious communication of psychological decompression after a state of high alert.
  5. An excess of carbon dioxide and lack of oxygen in the blood.
  6. A way of displaying (or indicative of) apathy.
  7. Tiredness.
  8. A means of equalizing middle ear pressure, which can be triggered by another's yawning.
In 2007, researchers from the University of Albany proposed that yawning may be a means to keep the brain cool. Mammalian brains operate best within a narrow temperature range. In two experiments, they demonstrated that both subjects with cold packs attached to their foreheads and subjects asked to breathe strictly nasally exhibited reduced contagious yawning when watching videos of people yawning. A similar recent hypothesis is that yawning is used for regulation of body temperature.
Another hypothesis is that yawns are caused by the same chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that affect emotions, mood, appetite, and other phenomena. These chemicals include serotonin, dopamine, glutamic acid, and nitric oxide. As more (or less) of these compounds are activated in the brain, the frequency of yawning increases. Conversely, a greater presence in the brain of opiate neurotransmitters such as endorphins reduces the frequency of yawning. Patients taking the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors Paxil (paroxetine HCl) or Celexa (citalopram) have been observed yawning more often. Excessive yawning is more common during the first three months of taking the SSRI's. Anecdotal reports by users of psilocybin mushrooms often describe a marked stimulation of yawning while intoxicated, often associated with excess lacrimation and nasal mucosal stimulation, especially while "peaking" (i.e., undergoing the most intense portion of the psilocybin experience). While opioids have been demonstrated to reduce this yawning and lacrimation provoked by psilocybin, it is not clear that the same pathways that induce yawning as a symptom of opioid abstinence in habituated users are the mode of action in yawning in mushroom users. While even opioid-dependent users of psilocybin on stable opioid therapy often report yawning and excess lacrimation while undergoing this entheogenic mushroom experience, there are no reports in the literature of habituated users experiencing other typical opioid withdrawal symptoms such as cramping, physical pain, anxiety, gooseflesh, etc. on mushrooms
Recent research carried out by Catriona Morrison, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leeds, involving monitoring the behaviour of students kept waiting in a reception area, indicates a connection (supported by neuro-imaging research) between empathic ability and yawning. "We believe that contagious yawning indicates empathy. It indicates an appreciation of other people's behavioural and physiological state," said Morrison.
Yet another theory is that yawning occurs to stabilize pressure on either side of the ear drums. The deep intake of air can sometimes cause a popping sound that only the yawner can hear; this is the pressure on the middle ear such as inside an airplane and when travelling up and down hills, which cause the eardrums to be bent instead of flat. Some people yawn when storms approach, which is a sure sign that changes in pressure affect them.
Some movements in psychotherapy, such as Re-evaluation Counseling or co-counselling treatments, believe that yawning, along with laughter and crying, are means of "discharging" painful emotion, and therefore can be encouraged in order to promote physical and emotional changes.
Yawning behaviour may be altered as a result of medical issues such as diabetes and adrenal conditions.


The yawn reflex is often described as contagious: if one person yawns, this will cause another person to "sympathetically" yawn. Observing another person's yawning face (especially his/her eyes), or even reading about or thinking about yawning, can cause a person to yawn.
The proximate cause for contagious yawning may lie with mirror neurons, i.e., neurons in the frontal cortex of certain vertebrates, which upon being exposed to a stimulus from conspecific (same species) and occasionally interspecific organisms, activates the same regions in the brain. Mirror neurons have been proposed as a driving force for imitation which lies at the root of much human learning, e.g., language acquisition. Yawning may be an offshoot of the same imitative impulse. A 2007 study found that children with autism spectrum disorder do not increase their yawning frequency after seeing videos of other people yawning, in contrast to typically developing children. This supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy.
To look at the issue in terms of evolutionary advantage, if there is one at all, yawning might be a herd instinct. Other theories suggest that the yawn serves to synchronize mood gregarious animals, similar to the howling of the wolf pack. It signals tiredness to other members of the group in order to synchronize sleeping patterns and periods of. This phenomenon has been observed among various primates. The threat gesture is a way of maintaining order in the primates' social structure. Specific studies were conducted on chimpanzees and stumptail macaques. A group of these animals was shown a video of other conspecifics yawning; both species yawned as well. This helps to partly confirm a yawn's "contagiousness."
Gordon Gallup, who hypothesizes that yawning may be a means of keeping the brain cool, also hypothesizes that "contagious" yawning may be a survival instinct inherited from our evolutionary past. "During human evolutionary history when we were subject to predation and attacks by other groups, if everybody yawns in response to seeing someone yawn, the whole group becomes much more vigilant, and much better at being able to detect danger."

Non-human yawning

In non-human animals, yawning can serve as a warning signal. For example, Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, mentioned that baboons use yawn to threaten their enemies, possibly by displaying large, canine teeth. Similarly, Siamese Fighting Fish yawn only when they see a conspecific (same species) or their own mirror-image, and their yawn often accompanies aggressive attack. Guinea Pigs also yawn in a display of dominance or anger, displaying their impressive incisor teeth, this is often accompanied by teeth chattering, purring and scent marking. Adelie Penguins employ yawning as part of their courtship ritual. Penguin couples face off and the males engage in what is described as an "ecstatic display," their beaks open wide and their faces pointed skyward. This trait has also been seen among Emperor Penguins. Researchers have been attempting to discover why these two different species share this trait, despite not sharing a habitat..


Certain superstitions surround the act of yawning. The most common of these is the belief that it is necessary to cover one's mouth when one is yawning in order to prevent one's soul from escaping the body. The Ancient Greeks believed that yawning was not a sign of boredom, but that a person's soul was trying to escape from its body, so that it may rest with the gods in the skies. This belief was also shared by the Maya.
Other superstitions include:
  • A yawn is a sign that danger is near.
  • Counting a person's teeth while he/she is yawning robs them of one year of life for every tooth counted.
  • If two persons are seen to yawn one after the other, it is said that the one who yawned last bears no malice towards who yawned first.
  • The one who yawns first shows no malice towards those he or she yawns around.
  • If you don't cover your mouth while yawning, then the devil will come and steal your soul (Estonia).
  • In Ancient Mayan civilization, yawning was thought to indicate subconscious sexual desires.
  • In some Latin American, East Asian and Central African countries yawning is said to be caused by someone else talking about you.
  • A yawn may be a sign that one is afflicted by the evil eye (Greece).
  • Frequent yawning by a woman indicates she is likely to be committing adultery, which results in a lack of sleep.
These superstitions may not only have arisen to prevent people from committing the faux pas of yawning loudly in another's presence — one of Mason Cooley's aphorismhealth. Polydore Vergil (c. 1470–1555), in his ''De Rerum that it was customary to make the sign of the cross over one's mouth, since "alike deadly plague was sometime in yawning, wherefore men used to fence themselves with the sign of the cross...which custom we retain at this day."


yawn in Arabic: تثاؤب
yawn in Breton: Barailh
yawn in German: Gähnen
yawn in Spanish: Bostezo
yawn in French: Bâillement
yawn in Indonesian: Kuap
yawn in Italian: Sbadiglio
yawn in Hebrew: פיהוק
yawn in Georgian: მთქნარება
yawn in Lithuanian: Žiovulys
yawn in Malayalam: കോട്ടുവായ്
yawn in Dutch: Geeuwreflex
yawn in Japanese: あくび
yawn in Norwegian: Gjesping
yawn in Polish: Ziewanie
yawn in Quechua: Surkay
yawn in Russian: Зевота
yawn in Sicilian: Badagghiu
yawn in Simple English: Yawn
yawn in Slovak: Zívanie
yawn in Finnish: Haukottelu
yawn in Swedish: Gäspning
yawn in Vietnamese: Ngáp
yawn in Ukrainian: Позіхання
yawn in Chinese: 哈欠
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