To stand open-mouthed


Dr Bernard Auriol

(Translated in English by Nahia Bonzom-Gourc)


The French dictionary Littré advises us not to mix up “agape” with to “yawn”.

How is it defined ?

1° Standing with open mouth  watching something
2° Fig. Desire something greedily.

Tomatis points out that the community of innervation of the “protusive” muscles of the face and the hearing muscles which speed up themselves inside the middle ear, suggest a community of action.   When we aim for the high-pitches, we have a tendency to put our lips forward. And to put our lips forward would allow us to be more receptive to the high-pitches, the harmonics with high rate, the voice in a sonorous musical way.

It is question here of an hearing that knows what it aims for, even within all unconsciousness of the subject.

But what about the music lover captivated by the diva or the first violin,  the woman lover who listens to the courting that she is subjected to,  the child who only needs  as proof the statement of his father ? To stand open mouthed is an opposite attitude : neither “protrusion”, nor withdrawal, a giving up ! We put ourselves in the arms of the sound, we accept passively all the components, we are devoted to it !

It is there a new opening, that aims for nothing as there is nothing else to do than to listen to, without making choice neither sorting out, without criticism neither moderation. The devout hearing on the way to lover or mystic ecstasy. Here all the frequencies have to be taken, there is nothing to throw away, low-pitches, middle register or high-pitches, listening with both ears and sight with dilated, dazzled eyes.  

The admiration towards a music, a song or a speech can also generate a suggested opening of the mouth and a sweet feeling at the lips : from there maybe the french expression “she laps up what he says”.

What is related to the “manducation” of the sacred texts or to the “divine speech” but it is only question of opening oneself and not to bite in it ! The term “admiration” gets the latin etymology mirus, mira, mirum which has given mirror, marvel, to admire, miracle, etc. Going into thoroughly, up to the etymology of mirus, we find the sanskrit root “smaya” that means precisely an expression of the face parted mouth, with a basis of joy, of admiration, of amazement with regard to an external phenomenon or the narcissistic pride that we will find again further in french under the term “prude”. The admiration leads us to be struck dumb so as to better pick up, in a passive attitude the sounds that we receive, it has also as result to hold our head forward and to dilate our pupils in order to open themselves more to the spectacle that fascinates us ; up to exaggerate this “pupillar” open with “mydriase” for receiving more light than needed : this draws around the contemplated object a glow, a “mandorle” or an aura. When this phenomenon is at its peak and exceeds all limits, the excess of light is so high that it dazzles us !

I have performed a screening of a certain number of texts,  written by French or foreign authors, who have in common to include the use of the expression “open mouthed”. Using in this way  the pool set up and thanks to the taking into account of the context of these different instances, we can note that this expression is mainly used for setting an image to the reaction of the subject  for what he had absolutely not expected :

It is question of utmost surprise, unwillingness to understand, with regard to an “absurd” or  unacceptable situation, considering an unexpected or unpredictable event, in short, the subject is incredulous, unarmed, stunned. (=> unable to react as no behaviour outline is available), stunned (=> struck by lightning) ; instead of being with dropped jaw and with parted lips (“open-mouthed”), the salivation operates on a “parasympatic” mode ; it quite takes his breath away, with arms dangling, the head held up by cervical hyperlordosis, the eyebrows up, the eyes rolled, ready to faint. But also an eyebrows rise, an increase of the “palpebrale” slot and a projection of the head forward. As if, confronted with an unexpected situation, we would expect more. We are wide open to get information, we are all ears. This distraught attitude, closed to the astonishment, leads us to stand there, without any resistance to what is happening, ready to “receiving all”, eager to get additional explanations or from this repetition which will tell us more or will lead us to enjoy again.

It is a totally passive form of reception (whereas generally speaking the perception is an action that is going to gain accurate information useful to our desire). Passive in the way that our organism does not get any indicator that would inform it which resource to use or because it expects all from  one another idealized, from a near maternal image of which he will lap up what she says as he used to suck, plain lips, the breast of his mother, that floods him into beatitude. This probably lead us to go back up to the intra-uterine life when simplified proto-consciousness states followed one another :

What is not « manducation » which would imply some splitting up and probably critical activity in such a way that he is flabbergasted (what for provençal people means that he gasps in pleasure!). English people says “agape” and the ambiguity that goes from “eros” to “caritas” sounds well. Within this interval the daydreaming takes place that makes us “stand and gape”.

Lap up what the other says, this is the point as the Greats have understood it, Shakespeare or Proust !

There pleading might you see grave Nestor stand,
As 'twere encouraging the Greeks to fight;
Making such sober action with his hand,
That it beguiled attention, charm'd the sight:
In speech, it seem'd, his beard, all silver white,
Wagg'd up and down, and from his lips did fly
Thin winding breath, which purl'd up to the sky.
About him were a press of gaping faces,
Which seem'd to swallow up his sound advice;
All jointly listening, but with several graces,
As if some mermaid did their ears entice,
Some high, some low, the painter was so nice;
The scalps of many, almost hid behind,
To jump up higher seem'd, to mock the mind.

W. Shakespeare (Lucrece, 1401-1414)


The people from Toulouse, who side with the fans or supporters, have fun saying that she or he “is lost in wonder” his idol ; more than the curious onlooker for who a poor-quality show holds his attention.
This probably explains the relationship of this attitude with the simpleness, the harmonious stupidity of the curious onlooker, ready to swallow some nonsense, we note it also among some autist children or near of being it, such as the “delighted one” from the provençal child care center. Astonishment or admiration state that makes you stammering, astounding you, took you aback, disconcerted, stunned, alarmed, stupefied !
The event maybe horrible, bringing to light an intense culpability, arousing the rage or being violently disappointing, but the feelings at work are more often very positive : intense interest, unlimited admiration, passionate attention, lover listening, excessive favoured attendance. Astounded ! It would not be probably on the same wavelength to use the “fascination” term which refers to the look whereas the open-mouthed recovers an ecstatic listening. Except to consider among the newborn sucking, that all goes hand in hand : the maternal face, the sweet words that she tells him, the delectable milk that she gives him wholeheartedly.


Some Desire and some prude

The open-mouthed opens on a breathing, a desire, some sublime maybe, some incredible, sometimes some magic or divine feelings. We certainly should set apart “inhaling” from “breathing in” => breathing in corresponds mainly to take the air by the nose (inhalation), inhaling that had the meaning of “blowing on” “bending one’s breathing to” had its meaning changed into an absorption of air or liquid from the XIIth Century.

From that time on, the taking of air calls to mind the fact of drinking by sucking up, drinking at the root ; that consolidates very strongly the “desiring”meaning of the term, expecting that the breast comes to the mouth by itself !
With regard to the prudishness , according to Littré, it is question of a “prudish and scornful women in a bad way. To adopt the prudishness, affecting ridiculously the virtue and the modesty”. It is an opposite of the desire that indicates us some repression !
The word is quite similar to open-mouthed, except to change the mouth for the face leads us to go from the admiration of others to the one of oneself and to the contempt of others, from the bliss to the haughty delight to the one who scorns the charm of the prince, to Cinderella with regard to her sisters. Up to “prudishness” and to let the miserable to die, on the doorstep, the open face......

And the yawn ?

Our master for this subject (Olivier Walusinski) has understood how much differs from the open-mouthed this archaic and well-built unity, this linking adjusted as a manuscript, that is to say the yawn made up of optimal tensions, of coordinated stretchings and of quite devil relaxation ; he has so well understood it that he does not attempt any comparison and does not refer to it ; whereas the english people could, driven by their language, to yield to the confusion.

Consequently, the yawn implies a stretching action, of active straining muscle, whereas the fact of being “open-mouthed” consists in giving up tensions ; it is a localized relaxation at the jaw or more spread (limbs, “cataplexy” phenomenon).


To fall backwards

The “cataplexy” is defined as a sudden dissolution of the tonus of posture with inhibition (more or less complete) of the intentional mobility. All the muscles get relaxed, it is impossible to speak, the yaws are becoming “flabby”, the legs do not support anymore, what we hold in our hands is falling : the person listens to what it is said or what it is done around.

The “cataplexy” can, among some predisposed subjects, be at the root of sudden falls, in the absence of any consciousness disorders. It appears in full awakening and varies from some seconds to some minutes ; it can be launched by an emotional factor, particularly the surprising , the anger or the laugh. Sometimes it alternates with some « narcoleptic » fits. We note the continuity of this phenomenom with the one, more ordinary of the « open-mouthed » of which it could be an extremum. Moreover, this justifies the physiological relationship suggested by the Sanskrit etymology of the word “admiration” that links up the open mouth resulting from the surprise or the astonishment and the smile.

This symptom can be occasional and affecting each of us during a specific emotion, in a singular physiological context. When it is repeated, it could be considered as a genetic illness known under the “narcolepsy-cataplexy” that requires a shrewd medical care.

Then the cataplexy can be linked with some other strange phenomenon such as “hypnagogical hallucinations" or sleep paralysis.

Nevertheless the study of J.Allan Cheyne and contributors, shows that “one quarter of the persons suffering from sleep paralysis have shown any additional hallucination. That is to say that the three phenomenons, if they can be linked, are not systematically !



Psychosonique Yogathérapie Psychanalyse & Psychothérapie Dynamique des groupes Eléments Personnels

© Copyright Bernard AURIOL (email : )

22 Avril 2006