Dwarfs (Discworld)

Dwarfs in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are similar to the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, which they largely started out pastiching, and dwarfs/dwarves in other fantasy novels. In other words; short, stocky, bearded metal-workers, generally seen wearing armour and brandishing axes. However, they have many unique qualities.

(As the above indicates, incidentally, Pratchett uses the plural "dwarfs", not "dwarves".)

Dwarfs originate from the Ramtops and Überwald, but many have moved down to the Sto Plains (Ankh-Morpork is now the largest dwarfish colony on the Disc). Dwarfs live to be about 300.

As Tolkien implied of his dwarves, Discworld dwarfs of both sexes have beards. However, while Tolkien stated that female dwarves are rare, and disguise themselves as male when they must travel, female Discworld dwarfs are common, but are traditionally indistinguishable from males at all times. Dwarfs tend not to concern themselves much with this; the dwarfish language has a gender neutral pronoun, usually rendered as "he" when speaking human languages. Dwarfish courtship is an incredibly tactful affair, primarily concerned with finding out which gender the other dwarf is.

Most dwarfs are intensely literal-minded, even by Discworld standards, and have absolutely no sense of metaphor or allusion. There are exceptions; the greatest playwright on the Discworld is a dwarf named Hwel.

Dwarfs tend to be miners. They have a natural fascination with minerals (especially iron and gold) and feel more comfortable underground. Their mining has lead to a longstanding enmity with trolls, who are made of rock, and have a tendency to remain motionless for long periods. The most famous troll/dwarf fight was the Battle of Koom Valley, in which both sides ambushed the other. The dwarfish board game of Thud commemorates this battle.

A dwarfish community is run by a dezka-knik or chief mining engineer, a title usually loosely translated into Morporkian as "king". All dwarfs owe allegiance to the Low King, who is selected by council in the Überwald dwarf city of Schmaltzberg. The current Low King is Rhys Rhysson, son of a small coal-mining clan in Llamedos. He got the job largely because he wasn't from a significant Ramtop or Überwald family (see below).

Dwarfs see their dwarfishness as a matter of culture, rather than genetics or height. Hence, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is accepted as a dwarf, despite being a six-foot human.

Dwarfish society has no religion, but does have gods "just in case". Further details of these gods are not known, with the exception of the trickster, Agi Hammerthief. They do not believe in demons or similar either, but traditionally bury their dead with good weapons in case the demons don't know about the fact.

In the past, a significant part of dwarfish culture was the "Knockerman", who went into mines ahead of the other dwarfs to check for firedamp. The Knockermen wore leather armour, designed to be shock-absorbing, and conical leather hats. The ones who returned were respected for their bravery, and told stories of hearing kobold-like spirits and Great A'Tuin's heartbeat. They became advisors and lawmakers. If dwarfs had a religion they would have been considered priests.

This fell out of practice in the Ramtops when a dwarf in Ankh-Morpork invented the Davy lamp. The Überwald dwarfs, however, felt the Knockermen were too important to be replaced by a device, and this caused something of a rift between the two groups. Many traditionalist Überwald dwarfs now refuse to come to the surface at all and, if they must, wear the Kockerman's outfit to protect themselves from the Sun. They are called drudak'ak, which translates as "they don't get out in the fresh air enough".

Another recent development offending traditionalist dwarfs is the trend for young dwarfs in Ankh-Morpork and elsewhere to be openly female. This trend seems to have been started by Cheery Littlebottom, a member of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, who was surprised at the way human females distinguished themselves from males. Since, historically, the "typical" dwarf was not actually assumed to be male (it was more the question being deemed irrelevant) this is a curious reaction, except inasmuch as the disapproval is of dwarfs not (in the drudak'ak's opinion) acting like dwarfs.

Bread is also a significant part of dwarf culture throughout the Disc. Dwarf bread is like hard tack, only more so. It will enable you to survive for days (by making you realise you are surrounded by things that look more edible) and never goes stale, possibly because it was always stale. Its primary use is as a weapon (although it is also used as a kind of currency), and it is made in many different types. These include boomerang biscuits, drop scones and close-combat crumpets. Reportedly the process of "forging" a loaf of dwarf bread includes gravel as part of the recipe, and kitty litter is apparently a preferred seasoning.(It is, of course, a parody of waybread.)

The Low King sits on an ancient loaf of dwarf bread called the Scone of Stone (a parody of the Stone of Scone).

When dwarfs are married, it is customary for the debts to their parents (consisting of all the money spent on them before they married, such as for food and lodgings) to be paid off by their partner.


The language of Discworld Dwarfs (Kad'k) bears a superficial resemblance to Khuzdul, in that it has a lot of guttural k's and z's. It is not spoken much in front of humans (the drudak'ak often speak nothing else, but avoid speaking to humans). Dwarfs who speak Morporkian invariably translate any meaningful parts of their name when doing so.

Known words and phrases, besides those mentioned above, include:

  • Bura'zak-ka- "Town hall"
  • 'Bad'dhakz- "Yeast bowl"
  • B'zugda-hiara- "lawn ornament"; a deadly insult.
  • D'hrarak- "Not dwarfs", refers to dwarfs who have been cast out of dwarfish culture
  • G'daraka- "Fresh" is a loose translation. Dwarfs who have just married and have had their debts paid off are said to be in a state of G'daraka. This means they are "free, unencumbered, new dwarfs."
  • Gr'duzk- "Good day"
  • Ha'ak- Exact translation unknown, but it is an offensive term for an openly female dwarf.
  • Hnaflbaflwhiflsnifltafl - A predecessor to the game of Thud. Possibly also used to refer to the current game.
  • Jar'ahk'haga- Literally "ideas taster", the senior advisor to the Low King
  • Kruk- "Law". The kruk is mostly about mining rights, but covers all aspects of dwarfish culture.
  • Sh'rt'azs- A family name, translated as "Littlebottom".
  • T'dr'duzk b'hzg t't- "Today is a good day for someone else to die." The famous well-thought-out dwarfish battle-cry. After being declared somebody HAS to die.

In addition, the enclitic -ak or -'ak appears to mean "not," and generally to indicate the opposite of something.

Kad'k is famed for having no words for rock. It has hundreds of words describing different kinds of rock, but not a single word that simply means "rock". "Show a dwarf a rock and he sees, for example, an inferior piece of crystalline sulphite of barytes." (Witches Abroad)

Dwarfish last names are, as mentioned above, usually translated into when speaking other languages. Knowing what the name means is part of knowing who the dwarf is. They can be descriptive clan-names (Littlebottom, Rocksmacker) or patronymics (Albrechtson), although these can be based on relations other than the father (Snoriscousin) and even get recursive (Glodsonsonson).

Dwarfish first names are usually either the same as humans of the region (Rhys, Bjorn, Gloria), mono- or duo-syllables reminiscent (to a greater or lesser extent) of Tolkien's dwarf names (Glod, Gimlet, Timkin, Hwel), or emotional descriptors (which, like the surnames, are translated) (Cheery, Nosy, Dozy). (The last is based on the dwarf names in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).


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