Open Sesame (phrase)

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"Open Sesame" (Arabic: افتح يا سمسمiftaḥ yā simsim, French: Sésame, ouvre-toi) 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 first appears in writing in Antoine Galland's Les Mille et une nuits (1704–1717) as Sésame, ouvre-toi (English, "Sesame, open!").[1] No earlier oral or written version of the story is known.

Galland's phrase has been variously translated from the French 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[edit]

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 (becoming trapped in the magic cave).


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:

  • Ali Baba came up with the secret password "open sesame" based on his love for sesame seeds.
  • Sesame is a reduplication of the Hebrew šem 'name' i.e. God or a kabbalistic word representing the Talmudic šem-šamáįm ("shem-shamayim"), 'name of heaven'.[5]
  • Sesame is connected to Babylonian magic practices which used sesame oil.[6]


  1. ^ "Les mille et une nuits : contes arabes / traduits par Galland, ornés de gravures". 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  2. ^ "The Novelist's Magazine - Google Boeken". Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  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


  • (English) Paul Haupt, "Open Sesame" in Beiträge zur assyriologie und semitischen sprachwissenschaft 10:2, 1927, p. 165ff. Originally presented at the meeting of the American Oriental Society, Washington, April 15, 1916.