EP word of the week (#33): sésamo

Sesame, the plant made famous by Arabian folk tales, animated puppets, hamburger buns, and spa treatments (or Asian cuisine), is also a source of misunderstanding between Portuguese speakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

While both variants recognize the word [o] sésamo, in BP the word [o] gergelim is also used in reference to the plant, its seed and its oil extract, and it is probably the word you’ll read/hear the most in Brazilian sources. In Portugal, only [o] sésamo is common, therefore that’s the word you should remember when you read (this time – and unlike kaki – it’s the EP word that shares an etymology with its English counterpart, making things slightly easier to remember).

When pronouncing [o] sésamo, don’t forget the rules about the sounds of s I’ve written about before; the first should sound like /s/, the second like /z/.


Just in case you’re wondering, both the usual Portuguese and Brazilian translations of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves translate “Open Sesame!” the exact same way: Abre-te, Sésamo! (lit. “open yourself, Sesame”). Some things change, others stay the same.

Related words:

  • [a] semente: seed
  • [o] óleo: oil (any kind of oil that’s not olive oil)
  • [o] azeite: olive oil

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