This article details minor Discworld concepts
: concepts and ideas from the Discworld
of novels by Terry Pratchett
which only appear in the background, or are not well fleshed out.
An anorankh is a pseudo-mystical symbol, consisting of an ankh
wearing an anorak
. It stems from a discussion on alt.fan.pratchett, a newsgroup
for fans of British author Terry Pratchett
, creator of the highly popular Discworld
series of humorous fantasy novels. One user mistakenly used the word "anorak" to refer to the ancient Egyptian symbol of life, the "ankh". A series of puns ensued which was eventually joined by Pratchett himself, who commissioned the first Holy Anorankh from Clarecraft
, the company responsible for creating the series of official Discworld
figurines. Clarecraft eventually made two designs commercially available, one silver and one pewter. Both designs are generally worn as necklaces or earrings, and they have since become an unofficial symbol of Pratchett-fandom.
In Maskerade, Granny Weatherwax remarks that a girl named Colette is wearing "fascinatin' earrings." This is a reference to a fan that Terry met at a convention; being impressed with her Anorankh earrings, he offered her a cameo in his next novel.
An image of the Holy Anorankh design is available here
The L-Space Web's A.F.P (alt.fan.pratchett) Timeline
Martin Walser's anorak post
Described as a rare, inverse form of crime. According to Reaper Man
, an anti-crime must:
... be done in such a way that it causes outrage and/or humiliation to the victim. Merely giving someone something is not enough. Examples of this type include breaking-and-decorating, proffering-with-intent, and whitemailing (for example threatening to reveal a mobster's donations to charity).
Even on the Discworld
, anti-crime has never really caught on.
Battle of Koom Valley
Central to the plot of Thud!
, the inhospitable Koom Valley was the scene of an ancient battle between dwarfs
that both species came to use as an excuse for the mutual enmity related throughout the Discworld series. It was said to be the only known battle in which both sides ambushed the other, and acted as inspiration for the development of the game of Thud
Later engagements have led to a total of sixteen battles of Koom Valley (seventeen counting a "fracas" in Vilinus Pass), only three of which took place in the valley itself. This is in part due to the battle being a convenient patch for rips in time often used by the History Monks, although the History of Thud suggests that something about the valley itself encourages violence (this might be related to the Summoning Dark). Over time, as Vimes notes in Thud! the Battle of Koom Valley ceased to be tied to any one location, and tended to appear anywhere and everywhere as a justification for any conflicts whatsoever between dwarfs and trolls.
Koom Valley's story is eventually revealed in the novel Thud!: The intention was to sign a treaty, but heavy fog came down, and when it lifted some took the sudden sighting of their mortal enemies for an ambush and tried to attack. Both sides fell on their own to keep this from happening, and fought until a flash flood washed them all away. The only word to come from the valley was exactly the wrong one.
This led to the continuation of the enmity until the efforts of Commander Vimes of the Ankh Morpork City Watch revealed the truth thousands of years later, in the process uncovering the last resting place of B'hrian Bloodaxe, the first Low King. He was playing an early form of Thud with Diamond, king of Trolls.
The name "Koom" is a reference to the Welsh word cwm, which is pronounced "koom" and means "valley". Thus "Koom Valley" means "Valley Valley." Pratchett has an admitted fondness for tautological place-names, such as "Cheetwood", which literally means "Woodwood," and Torpenhow Hill, which means "Hillhillhill Hill."
Boffo is described in Wintersmith
as "the power of expectations"; the strength one gains from behaving exactly as someone expects you to. It is introduced by the witch Eumenides Treason
as a means by which she ensures people take her seriously. It gets its name from the Boffo Novelty and Joke Shop, no. 4, Tenth Egg Street, Ankh-Morpork
, from which Miss Treason purchases most of her interior decorating supplies. It is possible that the shop is run by a clown called Boffo, a minor character in Men At Arms
. Frequently purchased items include fake skulls, fake spiders' webs and her hat (Wicked Witch #3- "A must for scary parties"). No witch actually has spiders' webs in her cottage or keeps skulls for any reason, but people expect
witches to do so and Miss Treason obliges them, the better to ensure that when people come calling they don't see what is really there (a tired, blind 111-year-old woman), but what they expect (a venerable, terrifying 113-year-old witch). She also ensures that many of the rumours about her (that she has a demon in her cellar, that she eats spiders, that she has a clockwork heart) are kept current and circulating, to ensure the presence of "Boffo thinking" among her clients.
Introduced in The Truth
, dark light is described by Otto Chriek as being the original form of light from which all other forms of light came. Otto was experimenting with dark light in order to take "obscurographs", iconographs using dark light given off by the Uberwaldean Land Eel (see Olm
) instead of normal light given off by salamanders. There are at least a couple of unintended side effects from using dark light. The first stems from the fact that dark light is detached from time, resulting in iconographs that show not only the present but the past and even the future. Dark light is also said to be "seen by the dark eyes of the mind." The result of this is that anyone exposed to dark light feels like they've had an icicle hammered into their head. Iconographs taken with dark light apparently show either a dark part of the subject's psyche (such as Mr. Pin's past murders) or hidden motivations (such as William De Worde's urge not
to be like his father), though there may be other effects not revealed in the book.
The Dark Morris
is a form of Morris dance
, described in a number of Discworld
novels, beginning with Reaper Man
as a counterpart to the traditional Morris dance (because in the Discworld, everything must have its opposite)—according to Reaper Man
, one is not performing a Morris dance correctly unless one performs both
dances. In the setting of the novels, it is performed primarily to welcome the winter
. It involves rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed forms by a group of dancers, who may wield sticks, swords, and black
handkerchiefs. It is done while wearing only black clothes, and with octiron
bells: these are distinct from normal bells in that they emit audible silences. Thus, this form of Morris dancing
is unusual, as it is silent: traditionally, there would be accompanying music.
Since its first literary appearance, the Dark Morris has been adopted by a few Morris sides. Pratchett, in an 'Author's Note' at the end of Wintersmith, describes how a Morris side turned up at one of his book signings dressed in black, "just for me" and "danced the Dark Morris in silence and perfect time." "It was beautifully done," he said, "But it was also a bit creepy.
Dimwell Arrhythmic Rhyming Slang
Dimwell arrhythmic rhyming slang (DARS) is the only known rhyming slang that does not actually rhyme. It has so far (2007) appeared only in Going Postal, where it is spoken by Tolliver Groat, the elderly Junior Postman. On their first introduction, the new Postmaster Moist von Lipwig is disconcerted by Tolliver's denial of his toupée, when he asserts "It's all mine, you know, not a prunes". Explanation reveals that in Dimwell slang, "syrup of prunes" means wig. (In Cockney rhyming slang, the expected derivation would be "syrup of figs".)
There are only a few examples of the slang system in Going Postal, and we are not vouchsafed the specific meaning and derivation in each case. Some are:
- cup-and-plate - no definition but "He's a bit cup-and-plate in the head" implies it means "not quite right"
- syrup of prunes - wig
The figgin first appeared in Guards! Guards!
as part of the rituals of a secret society called The Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night. Despite typically being interpretable as a body-part (Havelock Vetinari
's predecessor as Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Mad Lord Snapcase, was noted in Interesting Times
as having been hung up by his figgin following a revolt), according to the Dictionary of Eye-Watering Words
it is in fact a small short-crust pastry containing raisins.
Insinuated, in Eric
, to be an important part of human psychology. Their absence, according to the Creator, can cause psychological problems. "On the surface they were alright, but deep down they knew something was missing," as he put it, referring to the inhabitants of a world where he forgot to include any. (Compare "Slood".)
First seen in Making Money
, this is the opposite of an Exorcism
. Basically it causes the summoned spirit to haunt that which it is cast upon. It uses a circle of chalked runes, which is vertical rather than the usual horizontal. It is used in the end of Making Money
to banish the spirit of the late Prof. Flead to a striptease club as a sort of payment for his help to Moist von Lipwig
. Insorcism is not legal under the Unseen Universities college rules.
The 'Jerk Syndrome'
Described in Thud!
. This is a condition that may be experienced by a woman who is so beautiful, so alluring, that, as Angua
describes it, any man with half a brain isn't even going to think about asking her out, because it's obvious she's too grand for the likes of him. This leads her to believe that the problem is at her end, and that there must be something wrong with her. This persists until she meets a man who does not have half a brain (i.e. is too stupid to realize she'll likely reject him, or is so used to rejection that it doesn't bother him, or has some other flaw that stems from an even more
major flaw), and he does in fact ask her out, and she is so grateful that she says yes; it is implied that problems ensue because she is, as it were, going to a fancy, lavish restaurant and only ordering a bread roll and maybe a small salad. The concept is used in reference to Tawneee
, who is the quintessential example of this with Nobby
, although the strange part is that she actually likes
Recurring in various novels Knurdness
is described as the opposite of being drunk: not sober, which is merely the absence of drunkenness, but just as far away from sobriety in the opposite direction, resulting in a terrible, existential clarity. According to Sourcery
, being knurd strips away all the comforting illusions in which people usually spend their lives, letting them see and think clearly for the first time. This is a very traumatic experience, although it is noted that it sometimes leads to important discoveries.
Although knurdness is a state usually only obtainable by drinking Klatchian coffee, Samuel Vimes, one of the Discworld's most notable characters, is described in Guards! Guards! as being naturally two drinks short of actual sobriety. This makes him slightly knurd by default, partially accounting for his depressive nature and tendency towards alcoholism—he started out looking for a cure to knurdness. Once he starts drinking, however, he can't stop and ALWAYS gets the dosage wrong. Another character in the series who might be considered "knurd" is Tiffany Aching; by dint of her First Sight, she often sees things "as they are", rather than how she wishes to see them, although she retains a certain romanticism because of her youth.
Knurd written in reverse spells "drunk"; compare the entry in the Jargon File
on the Discworld, also often called the eighth colour
. Octarine is strongly indicative of magic and can only be seen by wizards, and cats, who sometimes describe it as resembling a fluorescent greenish-yellow purple. As in conventional human colour vision
, colour opponency
prevents the perception of reddish-greenish or yellowish-bluish colours; it would therefore be impossible to perceive a colour as "greenish-yellow purple"; if greenish-yellow and purple lights were shone together a shade of grey
would result, with pigments the result would be brown. The normal human visual system works by the presence of cones
in the eye. The ability of wizards
to see octarine is explained by the additional presence of octagons. The colour octarine appears as black
to ordinary people. A common conception of the colour is the colour of an incandescent filament
when viewed through black-light film
, a fluorescent white
The term octarine has become part of Pagan theological vocabulary. The occultist Peter J. Carroll referred to octarine in his book Liber Kaos Octarine suggests the rich imagination that is part of chaos magic, rather than any serious magical techniques or goals.
It has also become a part of Computer Programming vocabulary, where the adjective 'Octarine' refers to changes made to the structure or behaviour of another programmer's Class at runtime. This is because "it tends to work when there's only one person doing it, but start to mix a few together and KABOOM!"
Both quantum mechanics
and the uncertainty principle
have appeared in the Discworld in some form or another; however, neither concept even remotely resembles their real world counterparts.
The Uncertainty Principle is used as a "scientific" or "professional" way of saying "I don't know"; Death uses it in The Fifth Elephant as an excuse to appear when people are possibly going to die, apparently in addition to their actual deaths, even though he himself isn't clear what it is. All attempts to explain it outright, such as in The Last Hero, appear to be misunderstood versions of Schrödinger's cat. A slightly more accurate version has been used to explain the peculiar habits of the puzuma, and the unreliability of teleportation magic without assistance from Hex. A related concept is called the 'Theory of Thaumic Imponderability', which says it is impossible to tell exactly what a given spell will do, until it's too late.
Quantum, on the other hand, isn't explained at all; in fact, it serves much the same function as "magic" does on Earth, as described in The Discworld Companion, "a sort of get-out-of-half-understood-explanation-free card" — essentially, an explanation that does not, in fact, explain anything. It should be noted that just "magic" by itself would not be appropriate as such a non-explanation on the Discworld, since magic is a more or less fully-understood phenomenon (as in The Last Hero, when Leonard of Quirm attempts to explain weightlessness in a spaceship as "er ... magic" and Rincewind asks, "What kind of magic?"). Another explanation of Quantum is given in Pyramids as "add another nought" (in regards to accounting).
It is implied in the books that Ponder Stibbons may have a better understanding of both concepts, but has given up trying to explain them to anyone.
Derived from the real world concepts of phrenology
. Retrophrenologists take a less predictive approach than these, however, and seek to give customers whatever traits they desire to have by moulding their heads directly. What actually happens is that the customer is hit with a selection of different sized mallets, a treatment that can be said in complete honesty not to hurt a 'bit'. The efficacy of such treatments is unknown, but at least it provides employment and keeps the money in circulation.
First mentioned in The Last Continent
, Slood is a natural substance that could be discovered by intelligent beings, but that humans on Earth
have been too unintelligent to find, one of Rincewind's many accumulated positions is Reader in Slood Dynamics. It is said to be much easier to discover than fire, and only slightly harder to discover than water. The General Theory of Slood was discovered by Archchancellor Sloman, and a stained glass window representing this event is in the meeting room of the Unseen University
The Thaum is a measuring unit used in quantifying magic on the disk, First described as equals the amount of mystical energy required to conjure up one small white pigeon, or three normal-sized billiard balls. Several SI-modifiers have been applied to it(e.g. millithaum, kilothaum) in the books. Magic can be measured with a thaumometer, which looks like a black cube with a dial on one side. A standard thaumometer is good for up to a million thaums - if there is more magic than that around, measuring it is not going to do any good, as this level of magic will have broken a hole in reality.
An alternate measurement is the "Prime." It measures the amount of mystical energy required to move one pound of lead one foot. An attempt to put magic measurement into a logical framework never really caught on as wizards are natural traditionalists.
Confusingly, the thaum also appears to be a particle; the magical equivalent of the atom. "Splitting the thaum" revealed that it was in fact composed of numerous sub-particles, called resons ("thingies") which in turn are created from a combination of up to five "flavours": up, down, sideways, sex appeal, and peppermint (see quarks). Note that since even before this discovery magical fields of less than one thaum were described (The Light Fantastic), the particle known as the thaum must either represent less magic than one thaum on the measuring scale, or the measuring unit of the thaum must consist of one particle-thaum in a given unit of space.
The term thaum is based on the Greek term thauma (marvel), which is often used as a prefix meaning "magical" on the Discworld. It also suggests the non-SI unit of energy therm.
Also called the "quantum cosmic tick", is described in Thief of Time
as the shortest interval of time anything in the universe can occur. To the History Monks
, it is the time it takes for the universe to be broken down and rebuilt by Time
(or the time it takes for "now" to become "then"). The tick
itself, however, cannot be measured since it actually occurs outside the perception of those within the universe. Attempting to measure the tick
results in a paradox
that is equated to "opening the box with the crowbar you will find inside" (perhaps referring to a Spike Milligan
line): the instrument measuring the tick is supposed to be broken down and rebuilt during
See Planck time
for the Roundworld
In addition to more traditional traveling folk, such as tinkers
and so on, the Disc has a number of itinerant groups who provide professional services for communities that only need such services infrequently. Established groups include teachers
(Wee Free Men
) and accountants
- Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, Doubleday (2006) ISBN 978-0385609845
- Pratchett, Terry (1993). Men At Arms. Gollancz.
- Pratchett, Terry (2000). The Truth. Gollancz