Open Sesame (phrase)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

"Open Sesame" (Arabic إفتح يا سمسم iftaḥ ya simsim 'open, O sesame') is a magical phrase in the story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" in One Thousand and One Nights. It opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure.



The phrase appears in Antoine Galland's Les Mille et une nuits (1704–1717) as "Sésame, ouvre-toi" 'sesame, open!'.[1] No earlier Arabic-language source is known for the phrase. It has been translated into English as "Sesame, Open",[2] "Open, Sesame" and "Open, O Simsim".[3]


Open Sesame has been classified by Stith Thompson as motif element D1552.2, "Mountain opens to magic formula".[4]

Use in the story

In the story, Ali Baba overhears the thieves saying "open sesame". His brother later cannot remember the phrase, and confuses it with the names of other grains.


There are many theories about the origin of the phrase. Indeed, it is not certain that the word "sesame" actually refers to the sesame plant or seed.

Some older, rejected, theories include:

In popular literature

In Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, Popeye does not understand the phrase "open sesame": "I wonder what that word was he used when he opened this door? Open sissy! Open sayso!" Later, he opens his can of spinach saying "Open, says me!"[7]

In Ali Baba Bunny, after seeing Bugs Bunny's gopher trail pass under the door, the guardian of the cave cannot remember the magic phrase. Like Ali Baba's brother, Hassan makes several failed attempts at using sibilant alliterations, including "sarsaparilla", "Saskatchewan", "septuagenarian", and "saddle soap". At the end of the episode, Bugs himself uses the contrapositive term "Oh brother, close sesame"[8]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Burton
  4. ^ S. Thompson, Motif-index of folk-literature : a classification of narrative elements in folktales, ballads, myths, fables, mediaeval romances, exempla, fabliaux, jest-books, and local legends", 1955-1958. [1] cf. Aarne–Thompson classification system
  5. ^ Peiser, as reported in Haupt
  6. ^ Nöldeke, as reported in Haupt
  7. ^ Memorable quotes for Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves at IMDB [2]
  8. ^ Memorable quotes for Ali Baba Bunny at IMDB [3]