Frank Herbert’s Dune changed the world in 1965. Part science fiction, part an examination of ecology and theology, the epic novel is set in the distant future and in an interstellar universe comprised of noble houses. House Atreides of Caladan is assigned to a new home world, the planet Arrakis, where it will oversee the mining of the galaxy’s most powerful drug: a coveted material known as spice melange.
The best-selling science-fiction novel of all time, Dune is a vast, complex story, woven with themes of religion and politics. It mostly centers on Paul Atreides, who leaves for Arrakis with his family and finds himself mysteriously drawn to this new world and the fate that awaits him. His hero’s journey is the bulk of the first novel in the series, but it’s sometimes difficult to truly tap into the storytelling due to Herbert’s extensive catalog of terminology; places and phrases and objects mentioned in the story with no real explanation, only context clues to determine what they mean.
Herbert includes a glossary in the back of Dune, but it’s rather extensive. To keep things a little more mainlined, we compiled this glossary of the most important terms you need to know if you’re starting your journey into the world of Dune. (Once you have a grasp on the words, head here to learn how to pronounce them.)
A desolate, nearly inhospitable planet at the far edge of the Imperium. It is the sole source of spice melange, and thus rulership of the planet carries a certain honor. The surface of the planet is made almost entirely of dry dune deserts, and as such goes under an alternate name: Dune. Arrakis is home to a native human race, the Fremen, as well as large sandworms, whose produce spice melange. At the beginning of Dune, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV assigns House Atreides to inhabit the planet and mine for melange.
A large city on Arrakis and its political seat. Located on the northern pole of the planet, it’s considered safe as it sits atop a protective bedrock and is surrounded by a mountainous feature known as the Shield Wall that prevents infiltration from the sandworms. The palace House Atreides occupies in Dune is located in Arrakeen.
This stringed instrument is referenced often in Dune. Paul Atreides’ weapons teacher Gurney Halleck owns one and plays it while reciting poems. It contains nine strings and is tuned to the Chusuk scale. ( Chusuk is a musical planet in the Known Universe.)
This religious and political force is a sisterhood of women trained through mental conditioning (and melange use) to influence humanity to an enlightened path. Mysterious and often disregarded, they are called “witches” by many in the Imperium. The Bene Gesserit train together in a hierarchical system and are capable of longer lifespans and future and truth seeing. They can control and influence people through the use of the Voice. Their breeding system is well developed, and we learn that Paul Atreides’ mother, Lady Jessica—a member of the sisterhood—was meant to give his father a daughter; she disobeyed and intentionally gave him a son, thus disrupting the Bene Gesserit’s intended plan. This dilemma is at the center of the Dune universe.
The home planet of House Atreides for 26 generations. Lush and oceanic, it is often rainy and has a flourishing agricultural industry and fishing trade. The Atreides are forced to relinquish Caladan at the beginning of Dune when they are assigned to Arrakis.
Cone of Silence
This zone is emitted by an electric impulse broadcast and distorts the human voice so that recording devices cannot capture whatever is being said within it. It’s used by the antagonistic Vladimir Harkonnen—enemy of House Atreides—in his palace to discuss political tactics.
Military space vehicles that form together to create a giant vessel that falls upon its target, thereby crushing it. Crushers are used by House Harkonnen against House Atreides.
A knife with a blade formed from the tooth of a dead sandworm. It’s the weapon of choice for the Fremen and is typically laced with fast-acting poison. There are two forms of crysknives: unfixed blades that disintegrate unless kept close to a human body’s energetic field or fixed, which do not disintegrate. Sacred to the Fremen, once a crysknife is drawn, it cannot be put away until blood is drawn. Outsiders to the tribe are not allowed to see a crysknife; if they do, they must be killed by it.
A territorial obligation given to the Great Houses that describes their control and governance of a planet.
A breathing device worn by travelers on Arrakis to assist breathing and capture the body’s moisture. Paul Atreides and his mother Lady Jessica are seen wearing the devices in the first images from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
Humans who took up residency on Arrakis long ago and now consider themselves natives. Their fight for survival is part of their culture, and as such they are skilled combatants. They live in collectives called sietches that exist within the rocky formations of Arrakis. Because water is precious on the planet, it is also a part of Fremen culture; they wear complex stillsuits to capture the body’s moisture. Upon death their bodies are rendered into water.
Spice melange is also a vital part of Fremen existence. Because of their life on Arrakis and use of its resources, the Fremen benefit from the drug. They see the sandworm from where the spice is derived as a godlike being. Their constant consumption of spice means that Fremen have entirely blue eyes.
An industrial planet and seat of House Harkonnen. It’s full of robust cities and factories, and most of the ecology has been destroyed. Citizens of Giedi Prime mostly live in impoverished conditions given the harsh ruling of the Harkonnens. The planet is also home to immense stadiums where gladiatorial events are held.
The Golden Path
A prescient interpretation only visible to the Kwisatz Haderach. The Golden Path foretells events of the future. The Kwisatz Haderach is the one to interpret and maintain the flow of the universe using his access to this ability.
A poisoned needle that the Bene Gesserit use in the Gom Jabbar Test of Humanity, which determines if a person’s awareness is stronger than their instincts. If they are strongly aware of the presence of the gom jabbar—which is held to their neck during the test—it overrides their instincts to withdraw from the test. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam gives Paul Atreides the test at the beginning of Dune.
An artificially evolved superhuman within the Spacing Guild. The navigators consume massive amounts of spice melange that mutate them into amphibian-like creatures and allow them to see through time and space, allowing for safe interstellar travel.
The inner circle of the Landsraad, the body that represents all of the Great Houses. The council oversees disputes between the Houses.
A starship used by the Spacing Guild to transport people and equipment across the known universe.
Eyes of the Ibad
A phrase used to describe the all-blue eyes of the Fremen that happens when the bloodstream is saturated with spice melange after years of exposure or heavy use of the drug. This pigmentation of the eyes is described as “blue-within-blue,” meaning all parts of the eye are stained with the color.
A medical development for Suk Doctors that prevents the person trained in said conditioning from taking a human life. A doctor trained in this way is marked with a diamond tattoo on the forehead and wears their hair long and bound by a Suk ring. In Dune, Vladimir Harkonnen’s mentat agent Piter de Vries figures out a way to break Imperial conditioning.
Also known as the Galactic Padishah Empire, it’s the system of government that encompasses the Known Universe during the timeline of Dune. Overseen by a supreme ruler known as the Padishah Emperor, it shares in a feudal arrangement with other bodies of power, including the Bene Gesserit.
The fight against oppression, particular the Fremen’s struggle against Harkonnen control on Arrakis. It’s similar to the word “crusade.” The Butlerian Jihad in Dune describes the plight of humanity as a whole, a generations-long revolt.
Judge of the Change
A title given to an Imperial officer who oversees the change of a planetary Fief.
An exclamation that means “I am profoundly stirred!” It is used by many in Dune, including Paul Atreides and the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam when she gives Paul the gom jabbar test.
“One who can be many places at once.” The term comes from the Bene Gesserit, who use a genetic breeding program in hopes of creating a male who could access a specific region of prescient knowledge (the Golden Path) unattainable to females. The Kwisatz Haderach would possess male and female Other Memory, and be a Reverend Mother, Mentat, and Guild Navigator all in one being.
A name used by the Fremen to describe their messiah. It translates to “The one who will lead us to paradise.” They believe the child to of the Bene Gesserit and a non-native of Arrakis.
Also known as spice or spice melange, it is a powerful drug found on Arrakis. Melange is the most valued commodity in the universe and grants those who take it powerful abilities, including prescience, longer lifespans, mind reading and control, and safe interstellar travel. It is produced when the Arrakis sandworms die below the surface and excrete a substance that mixes with water and erupts to the surface of the desert planet, where it is collected.
After AI were banned in the universe, humans trained themselves to become mentats, a profession that allows the brain to mimic computers. This is achieved by strict mental conditioning which turns the mind into something like a calculator, and also allows for storage of memories and information. Mentats are used by the Great Houses as political advisors as they are able to recall history and devise strategies.
The word refers to a number of things in the Dune universe, including a constellation seen from Arrakis and a breed of desert mice found on the planet. (Minor spoiler alert) It is also the name Paul Atreides takes for himself when he is accepted into the Fremen.
Officers of the Imperial bodyguard who are related to the Padishah Emperor by blood.
Orange Catholic Bible
An important religious text in the universe. It is said to be a fusion of many religions believed throughout human history. It became popular in the wake of the Butlerian Jihad. Its foremost commandment is, “Thou shalt not disfigure the soul.”
The title of the hereditary rulers of the Imperium and the Known Universe.
An organic growth that develops deep below the surface of Arrakis. When mixed with the excretion of a dead sandworm, it erupts to the surface of the planet. When exposed to sunlight and air, the mixture turns into spice melange.
A title held by members of the Bene Gesserit who complete training at an advanced level. Reverend Mothers obtain their title after undergoing a dangerous ritual involving the Water of Life. If she survives, she obtains all her sisterhood’s memories, resulting in a full understanding of the past. No male has ever passed the ritual. The Reverend Mothers together choose the leader of the Bene Gesserit, known as the Reverend Mother Superior.
A harsh location turned into a prison planet. An elite military force known as the Sardaukar were bred on Salus Secundus.
Also known as Little Makers or Shai-hulud, the colossal sandworm is native to the planet Arrakis. They are destructive to human life given their unpredictable eruption to the surface of the desert planet, but are respected as their life cycles produce spice melange. The Fremen revere the sandworms, seeing them as godlike creatures.
A Fremen sietch on Arrakis, and the first Fremen community Paul Atreides encounters on the planet.
A non-political (in theory) organization concerned with the flow of commerce and preservation of the economy in the known universe. The guild created and controls the navigators that can navigate folded space, thus giving it a monopoly on interstellar travel.
The official monetary currency of the Imperium.
A full body suit worn in the desert of Arrakis that preserves the body’s moisture. The many layers of the stillsuit are designed to absorb sweat and urine and filter them through catchpockets that make the liquid drinkable to its wearer. The suit makes it possible to survive in the desert for weeks.
The prominent physicians in the universe and graduates of the Suk School. Trained in Imperial conditioning which prevents them from betraying a patient or taking a human life, they are highly valued and mostly service the elite.
A person who can detect when a truth is being told. It’s a skill developed by the Bene Gesserit, and is acquired after training in the Sisterhood’s ways. However, some people are born with the gift of Truthsaying, including Paul Atreides.
A mechanism that allows the manipulation of a person through mind control. The Bene Gesserit use the Voice to have others perform duties or to glean truth from a subject. Some are resistant to the Voice.
Water of life
An extremely poisonous blue liquid used by the Bene Gesserit in their Reverend Mother ritual. It comes from the bile of a sandworm’s stomach and a single drop is lethal to those who have not completed Bene Gesserit training. Likewise, no man has ever survived drinking the Water of Life.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the terms from Dune, why not join us over at Nerdist Book Club as we dig into Herbert’s book from the beginning? This week, we’ll discuss the first of the three books contained within the original Dune novel, and will continue for the next several weeks until we wrap on June 10. Learn more about our read-along here!
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