Monday, December 5, 2011

Open Sesame

I was introduced to the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves by a recording from the records section of the public library, back in the early 70’s. It was told by an American actor with what sounded to me at the time like a very broad accent, and an exaggerated and inappropriate prosody. It was part of a series of what could loosely be termed ‘fairy tales’, which we listened to repeatedly, told by the same man, or by a number of people with similar voices. At the start of one of the stories he said, “A legend is a story so old that no one really knows how true it is”, which continues to serve me as a working definition. It also has good metre for an opening line.

I used to hear Open Sesame as open sessally/sesserly, as though it were an adverb, describing a way in which something should open. But I would also think of it as meaning opening in a sesserly manner, so it was an adjective too.

Close sesserly sounded all wrong of course, because it had the wrong number of syllables, and because it was too clearly a mixture of order and password. Open sesserly sounds like it’s all a password (even though I analysed it mentally as an imperative + adverb, it was an unconscious syntactic analysis, and made no attempt at semantic deduction).

Then when he forgot the password and could only remember it was the name of a grain, I was completely confused because I didn’t know that sesame was a grain, or indeed anything at all except a meaningless codeword. It was sometime later when I came across sesame seed buns, and discovered that it was a real plant (though not actually a grain).

In other news, Rahul over here suggests a way of comparing great Test batsmen. It needs some refinement, so such readers of this blog as are both cricket fans and familiar with optimization strategies in statistical analysis might like to pop over and help out. In any case, it’s a good read.

There isn’t any particular point to this post, nor anything especially relevant about the memory, but I don’t know who Jeremy Clarkson is, so I have to talk about something else.


Vincent said...

I think you probably know enough abot Jeremy Clarkson to be proud that you don't know anything about him. I too have that honour.

CIngram said...

Precisely. I don't want to know enough about him to be able to have an opinion, or I shall feel obliged to give it, which would be to no one's advantage, and certainly not mine.