Brave New Words: A Pronunciation Guide to All the Terms in 'Dune'
Impress your dinner party guests with your flawless pronunciation of 'Kwisatz Haderach.'
If you've never encountered Dune apart from listening to nerds talk about how good it is, or how weird it is, or where the film adaptations of the book succeed and fail, you are probably still aware that Dune contains a lot of words. That is, lots of words that are not real, as well as words that are simply unfamiliar to most English speakers, which the characters of Dune mercilessly lob at your eyes for pages and pages until you're not sure which language anyone is speaking anymore.
When Frank Herbert wrote his Dune books, he primarily used words from languages that already exist to form the structure and terminology of his vision of humanity's far future, in which world religions have evolved or combined, and people say stuff like "Tleilaxu Face Dancer" in everyday conversation. Dune famously has a glossary of terms in the back that makes up a considerable fraction of its page count, which first-time readers will find themselves obsessively turning back to every few pages or so.
Now that Denis' Villeneuve's Dune has arrived in theaters, we get to watch a collection of some of the world's greatest actors saying all these words at each other. The benefit of seeing all this played out on film is, of course, hearing these words spoken for the first time, as opposed to just seeing them on the page, especially if you never had the opportunity to hear the author say all of these things himself. Some of them are intuitive, some of these not so much, and Villeneuve has clearly taken great pains to pronounce everything correctly. If you want a full glossary, you'll have to open up the book itself, but if you want a simple pronunciation guide for the essential trickier ones, we've collected them here as a reference so that you don't sound like a dolt at the dinner table when your family asks you about the Kwisatz Haderach, or the thorny politics of the Landsraad.
Arrakis - uh-RAK-is
Also known more colloquially and monosyllabically as "Dune," Arrakis is the home of the Fremen and the source of spice, the drug mined from the desert that allows the members of the Spacing Guild to fold space and transport goods around the galaxy, and gives normal people heightened mental abilities.
Bene Gesserit - BE-nee JESS-er-it
The order of all-female priestesses who have been manipulating the human empire from behind the scenes, involving all the noble houses in a tightly controlled breeding program with which they hope to bring about the fabled "Kwisatz Haderach." The Bene Gesserit are often referred to as "sorceresses" or "witches" because of their powers of precognition and physical strength. Lady Jessica, Paul Atreides' mother, is a Bene Gesserit who disobeyed the breeding program and gave her husband, Duke Leto Atreides, a son to inherit his title, instead of a daughter.
Crysknife - CRISS-knife
The tooth of a sandworm, made into an extremely sharp knife.
Gom jabbar - gowm juh-BAR
A poison, specifically a poison called "meta-cyanide" (cool), administered through a needle, which the Bene Gesserit priestesses use in a test of human awareness involving the box of pain—remove your hand from the box, as an animal would do, and the Bene Gesserit administering the test would not allow you to live; keep your hand inside the box and endure the pain using the power of your mind and you will prove yourself to be human. The Bene Gesserit value extreme and absolute control over their own minds and bodies—otherwise, an unstable person with access to the kind of power they wield would be extremely dangerous.
Fremen - FREH-men
The native people of Arrakis who have managed to survive in the desolate desert without being eaten by sandworms or cooked by the sun. They suffer under the hands of any Great House who controls the spice mines on the surface of the planet and harbor hatred for the Imperium, but secretly are much more resourceful than anyone believes. They wear stillsuits that recycle their body's moisture and walk in a special way to avoid detection by sandworms. With spice permeating everything they eat, their eyes have been permanently stained blue.
Kanly - CON-lee
The formal process of vendetta amongst two or more Great Houses, carried out according to social and legal restrictions, due to the precarious structure of the galactic Imperium (so, no nuclear weapons). If a House has wronged your family, you can declare kanly, and you're free to engage in violence against them. It's derived from a Turkish word meaning "sworn enemy," and the vendetta involves all of the members of both families involved, down to the last child. One thing about the Great Houses is they love drama.
Kwisatz Haderach - KVIS-ats HAD-er-ak
This is one of the many terms in Frank Herbert's series, based as it is on a version of humanity's future that combines and alters recognizable modern religions, that isn't completely made up: The W is pronounced like a V because it's a combination of two Hebrew terms, meaning "the shortening of the way." The Bene Gesserit are trying to breed this messianic figure into existence, referring to him as "the one who can be in two places at once," whose mind will be even more powerful than space and time.
Landsraad - LANDS-rod
The collective of all noble houses in the Imperium. The Landsraad Council is the Landsraad's legal representation, overseen by the Padishah Emperor, which allowed the Great Houses to negotiate trade or declare vendettas against each other in a public forum.
Padishah - puh-DEE-shuh
The emperor of the whole galaxy is known as the "Padishah Emperor," the words that make up "Padishah" having been drawn from the ancient Persian for "master shah," or "master ruler." Everyone's got all kinds of fancy titles and planets to preside over, but the Padishah Emperor rules ALL of it.
Prana-bindu - PRA-nuh BIN-du
The extreme mental and physical training every Bene Gesserit priestess must endure in order for her to have absolute control over the muscles in her body and use them to fight with the Bene Gesserit martial art. Lady Jessica trains Paul in this "weirding way" due to his latent Bene Gesserit powers.
Sardaukar - SAR-duh-kar
The order of extremely violent and skilled "soldier-fanatics" who fight for the Padishah Emperor.
Shai-Hulud - SHY-hoo-lood
The name (and if you've only seen Villeneuve's Dune: Part One this could be considered a teeny spoiler for what's to come) that the Fremen give to the sandworms.
Sietch - SEETCH
A smaller group or miniature tribe of Fremen, the bonds of which are deeper even than the bonds of family. Within a Fremen sietch you're given a secret name only used by that sietch—in the second half of Dune, Paul is known to all the Fremen as Muad'dib, and within his sietch he's called Usul.