You’ve probably heard the saying “the genie is out of the bottle” or “let the genie out of the bottle” a few times. While the meaning is pretty clear, you might be shocked to learn the origins of the phrase don’t have a lot to do with real genies (or djinn), but with something more…destructive.
Genie lamps are often depicted as small, oval-shaped golden or bronze vessels with a lid, a handle, and a narrow spout. In other words, genie lamps look like really expensive teapots. Why, then, do we call them lamps, and why are genies supposed to be trapped inside?
This is the story of the fisherman and the genie, a tale from Arabian Nights that’s one of the best examples of someone finding a genie trapped in a bottle, freeing it, and being tricked by the genie.
The best-known version of Aladdin in the modern West only bears a passing resemblance to the real story of Aladdin from Arabian Nights. For example, the original had two genies, only one of whom was trapped in a lamp, Aladdin wasn’t an orphan beggar, and the genie wasn’t, well, blue.
One key difference is what Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp for in the original story. It isn’t as simple as getting three wishes or asking to become a prince. In fact, Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp for a number of things, including to be transported into the princess’ bed.
“Genie in a Bottle” is a pop song by Christina Aguilera released on her self-titled debut album in 1999. It became the biggest-selling single in the U.S. that year, topped the Billboard 100 charts, and quickly sold over 2 million copies. You couldn’t turn the radio on without hearing it!
The lyrics to Genie in a Bottle mean something different to different people. One thing is pretty clear, however: it barely has anything to do with actual genies, bottles, or wishes.
Genies are often presented as immortal supernatural beings that grant wishes made by humans. Their immense powers are only unleashed after they’re freed from an oil lamp or bottle. As soon as they wake, they comment on how long they’ve been sealed away and how glad they are to be free.
This brings up unusual questions: are genies immortal? Can they actually live forever trapped in a lamp? Can they live forever when they roam the world freely?