Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sim Sala Bim

Gordon Meyer shares this quotation:
After a full evening send off with Dante's party we couldn't get close to the meaning of 'Sim-Sala-Bim.
—Theo Annemann, The Jinx #67
Here are a few tidbits about sim sala bim from our dictionary of magic words:

These magic words were made popular by the famous professional magician Dante/The Great Jansen. They also served as the name of his famous touring magic show. Professional magician Whit Haydn once used these words in his performances as a tribute to Dante. He explains: “Sim Sala Bim are nonsense syllables from a Danish nursery rhyme. Dante used them in his show, saying they meant ‘A thousand thanks.’ He said that the more applause, the bigger the bow, and the more thanks that the Sim Sala Bim would mean. Soon after moving to L.A. in the seventies, I bought a set of Dante’s rings from Ken Leckvold, who had bought them from Dante’s son. I really enjoyed performing with these rings, and eventually added Dante’s line as a magic word in my rope routine and silk to egg, sort of a tribute thing. I liked the Ali Baba/Aladdin kind of sound of the words.”

Sim salabim is spoken by a Turkish alchemist with magical powers in the early medieval folk play entitled Robyn Hode: A Mummers Play: “I have here a potion, brought from the east. It is called the golden elixir, and with one drop I will revive Robyn Hode with these magic words: ‘Sim Salabim.’ Rise up young man and see how your body can walk and sing.”

Dr. Herbert H. Nehrlich suggests that sim sala bim “is named after Ali Sim-sala-bim, a desert wanderer and—most importantly—a magician.”

Sim sala bim is “the Swedish equivalent of ‘abracadabra,’” and is known in other Scandinavian cultures as well.

After the Second World War, Kalanag, the stage name of professional German magician Helmut Schreiber, “toured the world with his spectacular, colorful illusion show Sim Sala Bim. . . . His show is now in the collection of the popular British magician, Paul Daniels.”

Sim Sala Bim is the name of a card trick by Kolin Tregaskes.

Professional magician Jade uses the magic phrase sim sala bim in Houdin’s Light & Heavy Chest illusion: “A box is easy to carry until—zap!—the magician Jade says the magic words. Suddenly, the box can’t be moved! In the front stage, you are invited to lift Jade’s magic chest. Then, with just the magic words, ‘Sim sala bim,’ Jade makes the chest too heavy to lift.”

Orson Welles uses Sim Sala Bim as magic words in the 1967 film Casino Royale.


Harnett-Hargrove said...

So very interesting... the potency of a word. -J

Chris Jepsen said...

And let's not forget Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent, who used that line regularly. He's probably the main reason most people have heard it. I wonder which of the aforementioned sources Carson picked it up from.

Arto said...

Thanks! I wonder if the origin of sim sala bim opens up as a metathesis of the arabic word salaam, peace. Or even better, bismillaahi, in the name of God. Similar is true of hocuspocus, which comes from Jesus' words repeated in eucharistic liturgy in latin, hoc est corpus meus, this is my body.

Eccentric Scholar said...

Hi Arto! I like the echoes you're hearing in "sim sala bim." :-)

Sim said...

There is a Dutch song i learned in the fifthies that goes like: sim Salabim bom bam salabom Salabim...
Song about a Hunter in the Wood.

Eccentric Scholar said...

Thanks, Sim! Love it!

John V. said...

It also appears in the song "With a Flair" from "Bedknobs and Broomsticks."

Richard Turner said...

After reading these comments i must return to my palace at once and confer with the Grand Mufti. Sim Sala Bim!

Kurt said...

Sim sala bim is from a German song, which was translated into Danish in the nineteenth century - and Dutch, as mentioned by Sim (oddly appropriate name). The nonsense lyrics are "simsalabim bamba saladu saladim". The German lyrics are known from 1838. The Danish version is known from 1840, it is nearly identical to the Earliest German version. It is not absolutely certain which version is the oldest, only that the first written version is the 1838 German version.
The Danish version can be heard here:
Basically it says:
High on a branch a crow was perched.
Then a horrible hunter came along.
He shot the poor crow - down!
Now the poor crow is dead.

Not really magic related at all, not Arab, not Turkish, just a nursery rhyme.
German version, with a happier ending

Khalaazar King said...

Also used as lyrics in the Tool song, "Die Eier von Satan", a cookie recipe sung in German, with spectacular effect.

BlackmanRay said...

When I was growing up in the kingdom of Lesotho, my relative, a magician, whom I used to go and watch used those words. We were told never to use those words because they were magical, but deadly in the wrong hands, so to speak. The innocence of childhood!