Meaning of the French Expression 'Rester Bouche Bée'

How do you say 'flabbergasted' in French?

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First of all, the French expression rester bouche bée has nothing to do with abeille, the French word for "bee." Instead, it's all about the French word bouche, which means "mouth."  

This phrase is one of a long list of French expressions that use bouche, from le bouche-à-bouche (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) and Ta bouche! (Shut up!) to faire la fine/petite bouche (turn one's nose up) and mettre un mot dans la bouche de quelqu'un (put words into someone's mouth).

The expression at hand is rester bouche bée, but it can also be used without rester. A third variation is regarder bouche bée.

Meaning Without 'Rester': Open-Mouthed in a State of Stunned Surprise

Picture someone who was just surprised—extremely surprised—and that person's jaw drops open involuntarily; bouche bée describes that physical reaction. Bouche bée means you are so surprised your mouth is agape; you are astonished, flabbergasted, open-mouthed. 

Quand je lui ai annoncé qu'on divorçait, elle était bouche bée.
When I announced to her that we were divorcing, her jaw dropped open/she was stunned.

If someone is stunned by something good, all or part of "mouth agape in a state of wonderment" might be the best English version of bouche bée since the word "agape" derives from the Greek word love. If it's something not so good, the best English equivalents of bouche bée might be astonished, flabbergasted or dumbfounded, the latter possibly being best since it carries a sense of worry.

Meaning With 'Rester': Remain Speechless in Stunned Surprise

When you use bouche bée with the verb rester, it involves a longer period of time. The cause of the astonishment might be something a little more serious as well. So the meaning switches a bit to "remaining speechless." But the image is the same: mouth agape.

Elle est restée bouche bée pendant quelques secondes, et puis elle a éclaté en sanglots.
She stayed there, mouth agape, for a while, then she burst into tears.

Il en est resté bouche bée, mais n'a jamais oublié la grâce de cette dame.
He was left speechless and never forgot the lady's graciousness.

'Regarder Bouche Bée': Gape at

Tous les gens dans la rue le regardait bouche bée.
All the people in the street gaped speechlessly at him.

Origins of the Term 'Bouche Bée'

It comes from the very old, no longer used verb béer, which means to be wide open. You may have read la porte était béante, which means "the door was wide open." 

Pronunciation of 'Rester Bouche Bée'

It sounds a bit like "boosh bay." Note that bée takes the acute "e" sound of French, not the long "e" sound in "bee."The verb rester, like many French infinitives, ends in "er," which sounds, again, like the acute "e" in French. 

Synonyms for 'Bouche Bée'

Être abasourdi, ébahi, sidéré, extrêmement étonné, choqué, frappé de stupeur