Bismillach, no!

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 19 2007 10:22 AM

Bismillach, no!

A brief story of personal gullibility and skepticism.

We have recently introduced The Little Astronomer to Queen, one of the best rock bands of all time (and not just because guitarist Brian May has a PhD in astronomy). We were listening to Bohemian Rhapsody, and when we got to the operatic part, Mrs. BA asked out loud, "What does bismillach mean?"

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


The song was a hit when I was in junior high, and everyone was talking about it. My memory of all this is dim, but I do remember talking about what bismillach meant, and someone told me it meant, um, "BS".

Fast forward 32 years (holy Haleakala!), and I relate this story to my wife and TLA. I hadn't thought about it in years, and after saying it out loud it sounded fishy to me (plus, it didn't quite fit with the lyrics). One thing we have now that we didn't in 1975 is teh intertoobs. I fired up Firefox, put in the word, and found out that bismillach (spelling varies) means, "In the name of Allah".

Well, whaddya know. A little skepticism overturned a childhood falsehood I've carried with me for decades. Huh. And I'm not even sad about it... in fact, now I understand that passage of the song far better.

And I can imagine what PZ would say about what I thought the word meant versus its actual meaning.

Thus endeth our tale. Party on.



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