Bêtement is a French word whose literal meaning is 'in the manner of an animal'. It is often used metaphorically, to describe an action carried out in a robotic fashion – without thinking. How would you translate this sense into English? Perhaps robotically is the answer, but can anyone think of anything better?

  • What did your French-English ditionary already say?
    – Mitch
    Oct 12 '13 at 20:26
  • It said 'stupidly'. Hachette is a good dictionary, recommended by professionals, but on this occasion I do not believe it has got it right.
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 21:11
  • In my experience, the French will use bêtement in exactly the same way as I use stupidly. While true that the origin of the word is bête as in beast, in everyday speech, it is used to mean fool or idiot. Il est bête does not translate into he's a beast but into he's an idiot. I think your dictionary is quite right.
    – terdon
    Oct 12 '13 at 23:55
  • @terdon. Sounds as if you live in France, in which case 'who am I to argue?'. But from when I lived in France I could remember people in my company using it to describe the actions of a clerk who had simply transcribed something out of habit, mechanically, without even noticing that what they had written had been ridiculous. 'Stupidly' does not seem to me, precisely, to cover that.
    – WS2
    Oct 13 '13 at 0:13
  • First of all, yes I live in France but I am not a native speaker of French (or even close), so don't take my word as gospel. That said, bêtement in that context means automatically, i.e. without thinking, not like an animal so again, it is close to foolish. Also see Mark Thorin's answer below.
    – terdon
    Oct 13 '13 at 0:21

Bêtement has other meanings than the one you are referring to, but in this case, when you do something without thinking, you do it mindlessly.

"She mindlessly passed me on the street without even giving a hint of recognition."

"I have been mindlessly driving to work everyday, and never noticed that our beloved oak tree was gone."

mindlessly: Giving or showing little attention or care; heedless.

You might consider the French phrase Que je suis bête ! to mean "I am stupid!" (Am I stupid!), but a more subtle meaning might be "What was I thinking!" which is a short distance from "I wasn't thinking". In other words, "I was acting mindlessly" ( Je me comportais bêtement ) .

  • Excellent. precisely the word I was searching for! I consider you to have answered my question exactly.
    – WS2
    Oct 13 '13 at 8:35
  • @WS2 if this is the case, you should mark this as the correct answer.
    – Lumberjack
    Oct 13 '13 at 19:42
  • @Lumberjack. Thanks. I've discovered how to do that.
    – WS2
    Oct 13 '13 at 19:48

"Bêtement" is by no means associated with ideas of insanity, and even less of bestiality.

It is a very mild word to say "foolishly".

"Zut, j'ai bêtement oublié mes clefs !" = "Oops, I have foolishly forgotten my keys !"

and "tout bêtement" means "quite simply"

"Alors, je suis rentré tout bêtement par la fenêtre". = "Then, I quite simply went in through the window".

and "une bêtise" = a not really important blunder.

A Franco-British


The most common animal metaphor relevant here is that of cattle - so you can say in a bovine manner thus denoting their dull and stolid mechanical nature.

Bovine is apt in this figurative sense. Continuing the animal metaphors you may prefer mutton-headed, which basically carries the same meaning of being dull and slow-witted.

A good non-animal robotic metaphor is automaton-like.

  • Why did this answer get voted down? as the person who asked the question I thought it was quite good, not as good as 'mechanical', but not too far adrift. I'm new to all this, but what is the meaning of all these negative votes?
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 20:01
  • I wouldn't consider this answer to require a downvote. The word 'bovine' does have a spread of secondary senses of 'stolid / plodding / sluggish' in most dictionaries. But if you search for bovine on the web, you'll find yourself starting with dictionary references, then the principal sense and a few quirky usages, with hardly an example of the 'sluggish' usage for ages. Oct 12 '13 at 23:35

The standard translations of bêtement are words like stupidly, idiotically, insanely or thoughtlessly, carrying the metaphorical meaning of "like a beast".


I recommend mechanically, although if you'd like to allude to the French word's “beast” etymology, you can also use instinctively. Both mean “unthinking”; instinctive is somewhat more positive, while mechanical is somewhat negative.

  • Note that this is only for the stated context. In other contexts, Mark Thorin's foolishly would be better. Oct 13 '13 at 2:42

'Mechanically' comes up as the best fit. It is unusual to find a French word for which there is no exact equivalent in English, since English has a larger vocabulary than French. I can think of dozens of English words for which it is difficult to find a French equivalent, the most obvious ones being 'home', 'fair', 'cosy' etc. I'm not an expert, but it is sometimes said that whilst the English rely on vocabulary to shade their meanings and alter the nuance, the French achieve a similar effect through inflections of grammar, in particular through the use of the subjunctive.

Since writing this @ Jim has suggested the word 'mindlessly' for this particular meaning of the word betement. This would seem to me to fit precisely, though I do of course recognise that betement has other meanings.

  • 'Metronomically' is in the same ballpark. Corral. Oct 13 '13 at 1:00
  • 2
    @Edwin Ashworth. Sounds good but the problem is I've never heard anyone speak of someone having done something 'metronomically'.
    – WS2
    Oct 13 '13 at 8:46
  • Yes, you have a problem. I don't: 'But when Bloomberg is gone, New Yorkers will have the chance to elect someone who is not incessantly and metronomically invoking the business model of governance.' Also, 'Everything on the British end of things is working metronomically.' / '...she broke Cibulkova to love, her forehand working metronomically...' / 'Al Di Meola is a master of the guitar, and it may seem like his timing is off, but his mind is working metronomically ...' (internet). Do check your facts. Oct 14 '13 at 0:08
  • If you prefer a sentient agent: 'where you walk calmly and metronomically, no jerky movements' // ' ...on his round throne, surrounded by metronomically nodding courtiers' // 'Mindlessly, metronomically blipping through channel after channel' // 'Carrick keeps things going metronomically, down the left and then down the right.' // 'A cow was shambling down the center of Main Bazaar Road, metronomically [swishing] her tail at the flies' (all internet) Oct 14 '13 at 11:12

Perhaps bestial?

  1. brutal or savage
  2. sexually depraved; carna
  3. lacking in refinement; brutish
  4. of or relating to a beast

Also consider beastly

Of or resembling a beast; bestial.

If you are just asking about an unthinking manner, your term robotically may be appropriate. You also could consider mechanically

(of an action) done without thought or spontaneity; automatic

The terms drone-like and sheep-like are also used to suggest automaton like behavior.

  • I think 'mechanically' is perhaps the best fit. Oddly the dictionaries do not include it. Hachette says 'stupidly', which is well wide. The earlier suggestions you mention are an altogether different use of the word.
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 18:49
  • The adverbs are bestially and beastlily (no relation to tiger lily). Oct 12 '13 at 19:17
  • @Edwin Ashworth. But those have a quite different meaning. Indeed the French use the words 'bestial' and 'bestialite' and they mean what they mean in English. 'Betement' is something else.
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 19:58
  • Why the downward voting?
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 20:11
  • @Edwin Ashworth. I should have said 'a French word whose LITERAL meaning is "in the manner of an animal"'. Is it not legitimate to search on this site for an English word which means something, and the only way of expressing that 'something' is by using a word in another language which describes it? The Japanese, for example, have a word, spelled in Roman letters, 'kimochi'. I would be delighted if someone could point me to an English equivalent which I could use in Wigan or Wolverhampton.
    – WS2
    Oct 12 '13 at 23:12

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