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I am only familiar with "faggot" being used as a slur for a gay man or as a bundle of sticks.

Some statements in the preceding paragraphs that provide context:

...A predawn hush had come over the desert basin. Straight overhead, the stars were a sequin shawl flung over blue-black...

...As the Duke watched, the moon dipped beneath the Shield Wall cliffs, frosting them, and in the sudden intensity of darkness...

And the passage itself:

To the east, the night grew a faggot of luminous gray, then seashell opalescensce that dimmed the stars.

The preceding paragraphs suggest to me that "faggot" is describing a color. As an allusion to a burning bundle of sticks I would have expected him to say orange or red. Instead he says "luminous gray".

This book was written 50 years ago so I'm wondering if it had another meaning back then.

  • See the question & answer here: learnersdictionary.com/definition/faggot – Alan Carmack Nov 24 '16 at 23:33
  • The sky of Arrakis is gray. Not sure if that helps. – Matt Samuel Nov 25 '16 at 2:35
  • One sense of faggot, always limited in use and more so now than 50 years ago, is "A bundle of iron or steel rods bound together." – JEL Nov 25 '16 at 4:10
  • @AlanCarmack It is network policy to have no curse words or hate speech in titles, even as mentions. – tchrist Nov 26 '16 at 3:05
  • @tchrist okay nevermind – Alan Carmack Nov 26 '16 at 3:06
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A faggot is a bundle of sticks used as fuel, and to start (and maintain) a fire. In this instance, Herbert probably uses it as a metaphor to represent a weak source of light: "To the east, the night grew a glimmer [faggot] of luminous gray..."

  • Faggot does not equal glimmer. Please adduce evidence that faggot can refer to a bundle of sticks making a weak source of light (as in a fire). Also, when is glimmer gray? – Alan Carmack Nov 24 '16 at 23:46
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    @AlanCarmack Well, if you have a better explanation... – Mick Nov 24 '16 at 23:47
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    @AlanCarmack The context seems to require some source of light, and I have provided a link to the definition of faggot. I doubt if the author intended us to envision a homosexual roasting on a spit. You are at liberty to down-vote. (I didn't notice the comments in your link -- I just read the dictionary definition). – Mick Nov 24 '16 at 23:52
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    @AlanCarmack Another meaning of "faggot" is a sort of cheap savoury meatball made from minced butchery scraps (actually more tasty than it sounds). The bundle of sticks and the and the meatball are both smaller, working class and, to some extent inferior substitutes for something richer people would buy (the bundle of sticks replaces a proper log and the meatball replaces a steak or other cut of meat). The faggot of light, therefore, suggests, to me, a low quality substitute for a proper dawn light. Mick's suggestion also sounds fine to me. – BoldBen Nov 25 '16 at 0:05
  • @BoldBen This fits better with the need to suggest a weak source of light (and is a more modern usage). – Mick Nov 25 '16 at 0:19
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I have two ideas about this. One comes from embroidery and crochet, and one comes from the word for bassoon in many European languages.

  1. Thinking of bassoon. I have not found a good reference, but I think that bassoon is a very beautifully and carefully worked piece of wood. So, inspired by this, we could take this passage to mean that towards dawn, a sliver of gray appeared.

  2. In embroidery, fagoting is a filigree way of joining two hemmed pieces of fabric:

fagoting seam

And in knit and crochet, fagot stitch yields a narrow strip of more porous, open texture.

Here's a picture of a predawn horizon:

pre-dawn

I like the textile idea because of the "sequin shawl."

  • @aparente001thanks a lot for the predawn picture. Had it been with the starry night sky, it could effectively explain the meaning and depravity of words of in the hands not so literary. – Barid Baran Acharya Dec 3 '16 at 16:23
  • @BaridBaranAcharya - I'll let you overlay some stars! I'm not good at manipulating graphics. – aparente001 Dec 3 '16 at 17:09
  • The stitch is interesting and appears in the OED: "b.2.b The embroidered figure of a faggot, which heretics who had recanted were obliged to wear on their sleeve, as an emblem of what they had merited." – chronometric Dec 15 '16 at 22:09
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I've researched this a bit more and I didn't find any definitive answers.

The most common response people have to this question when asked on other sites is that "faggot" refers to a bundle of burning sticks (e.g. this Quora post).

There is a reference to red farther down the page:

He had never imagined anything here could be as beautiful as that shattered red horizon and the purple and ochre cliffs.

Wikipedia talks about the red/blue characteristics of opalescence:

The material appears yellowish-red in transmitted light and blue in the scattered light perpendicular to the transmitted light.

So I think the passage is talking about a sunrise that starts red (like the yellowish red/orange of opalescence) to the soft orange light of a bundle of burning sticks, and finally to the gray of the Arrakis sky.

  • Yeah I've read some of Dune and Frank Herbert is not the greatest writer; some of his descriptions fail to impress. The next sentence after the one being asked about is about the motion of a bell being tolled; I think his descriptive prowess to be cryptic to crap. – Alan Carmack Nov 28 '16 at 5:28
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I there are more definitions in the OED than I would have thought, but Herbert is being somewhat oblique no matter what meaning he intends. To my mind, the most likely is:

  1. a.2.a With special reference to the practice of burning heretics alive, esp. in phrase fire and faggot; †to fry a faggot, to be burnt alive; also, to bear, carry a faggot, as those did who renounced heresy. Hence fig. the punishment itself.

This is the only sense of the word that seems to include the actual act of burning the bundle of sticks intended for fuel (which is the first definition). It seems clear that in the context of dawn he means to evoke the image of a distant flame.

It is most peculiar that he suggests the color of this "burning" to be grey, but there is no other definition of the word that does not imply a slur or some form of bundle of sticks or rods.

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