Mwah! You’ve just received an air kiss, sometimes referred to by the mwah spelling. In fact, mwah is now an official word for the air kiss in dictionaries, and is identified as having an onomatopoeic function, since it sounds like a loud kiss. First the lips compress to make an “mm,” and then open with an exhalation of a breath to produce the “wah” sound. A phrase similar is "kiss kiss," which may also express an air kiss, but isn’t quite as satisfying in sound.
The air kiss or mwah is a gesture of greeting or farewell, and it’s often associated with high profile celebrities, models or glamour queens. It may have originated specifically with models due to the fact that models frequently travel to places like France where a kiss on each cheek is standard greeting. However, if you’re kissing a model, particularly before a photo shoot or fashion show, the last thing you would want to do is mess up her makeup. Moreover, models or fashionably made up women might smear their lipstick on others, which can create the need to carry handkerchiefs.
The air kiss style clearly gravitated to the US, where kissing tends not to be the standard form of greeting among acquaintances. It may also include briefly touching each cheek as the kiss sound is made. Alternately the cheek-to-cheek double kiss may not include an actual kissing sound, though the lips may remain pursed as if you are about to kiss someone.
You’ll see examples of the air kiss on numerous television shows, with or without the accompanying “mwah” sound. Some believe that shows like Sex and The City popularized the greeting. Certainly other programs like America’s Next Top Model, The Real Housewives of Orange County and even red carpet shows like those preceding the Academy Awards have also made the air kiss quite recognizable.
Some wonder if an air kiss can truly be a sincere form of greeting, especially since the double cheek kiss was not particularly American in form. There’s a wonderful scene dating back several decades in the film Young Frankenstein, where Dr. Frankenstein is only able to express his affection for his fiancée when they are parting by rubbing elbows with her, since he would otherwise damage her hair, makeup or fingernails.
Though there may occasionally be some insincerity in the gesture, or a desire to preserve appearances, it can connote real affection between people and is certainly not always fake. Whether not wishing to damage personal appearance is shallow has to be weighed by each person. Yet again, reference to television shows like Sex and the City though they may have placed much emphasis on appearance, also example that these gestures are not necessarily empty and that true affection and regard can exist behind them.