Following is excerpt from Frank Herbert's Dune:

You have no idea how much wealth is involved, Feyd," the Baron said. "Not in your wildest imaginings. To begin, we'll have an irrevocable directorship in the CHOAM Company."

Feyd-Rautha nodded. Wealth was the thing. CHOAM was the key to wealth, each noble House dipping from the company's coffers whatever it could under the power of the directorships.

Highlighted is the part I struggle to understand. Looks like something similar to "each noble House taking advantage of the company's money", but I can't find such meaning for the verb "dip". And it seems that use of the verb "dip" with the preposition "from" isn't common too.

  • 3
    See this NGram showing that to dip from the company [coffers / bank account / etc.] has no currency whatsoever (we always dip into [a source of funds]). Herbert is a competent writer, so perhaps he deliberately chose "unusual" (but easily-understood, for his target readership) phrasing to reflect the "unusual, exotic, other-worldly" context of his sci-fi fantasy narrative. Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:35
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    I think the other answers have missed the point: the usual form "dipping into" doesn't work here, because of the direct object "whatever it could". You can't say "dipping into the company's coffers whatever it could." The text as it stands sounds fine to me.
    – TonyK
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 21:18
  • @TonyK you should make this an answer, when reading the text this phrase is usually understood implicitly, but when we pull it apart, we have all clearly missed the point. Such is the skill of Herbert in this sense! There are other language issues in the books but this one is just good inflection of the verb into Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 3:19

4 Answers 4


In his novel Herbert make a lot of effort to portray water as the single most valuable commodity to the natives of Arrakis. This is significant to the story. Water is held as a communal resource by the Fremen and when a shar of that resource is needed, a portion is dipped from the cistern (collective water storage) to the individual.

To the galactic aristocracy, the most valuable commodity is Spice. The trade in Spice is controlled by the CHOAM company, and the wealth created by that trade is tempting for those in charge to the point that they take some for themselves.

Herbert is making an allusion between the directors of the CHOAM company taking wealth from the trading company and the Fremen taking water from their cisterns. This reinforces how water is considered more valuable than Spice to Fremen, who effectively control the supply of the latter.

"dipping from" is not a normal construct when referring to the fraudulent taking of company funds by directors. It makes sense in this context as a poetic allusion.

  • 3
    I''ll buy this! If you're not one already, you might have a great future as a professional literary critic! :) You haven't explicitly mentioned it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Herbert wasn't (consciously or otherwise) alluding to the extremely common collocation dipping from the well (often with the highly-relevant implication of taking too much too often, so the well runs dry). Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:37
  • Re "not a normal construct": What is the normal construct? The opposite, filling coffers (hoarding money? In a somewhat unfair way?) Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 15:31
  • The normal construct when referring to the fraudulent taking of funds is dip into in which the referent is the subject doing the dipping and not the object dipped. The right preposition is important in the non-inflected English language. Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 18:07

"Dipping into the coffers" is a standard idiom for employees or other individuals taking money for private purposes from an organization's funds.

"Dipping from" has the same meaning but sounds a little odd to me. Searching for it found only "dipping into".


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    I too believe this is the intended meaning, and that Herbert is creating his own idiomatic version of English, as he does throughout the book.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 7:15
  • 6
    A coffer is a strongbox, used to safely store valuables; in this case this money or gold. Metaphorically, the sentence can mean any money the company owns, whether in a strongbox or its bank account, etc. The word coffer is now a relic word and is rarely used outside of this expression
    – CSM
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 10:41
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    And of course while we are on the illegal track perhaps worth mentioning the use of dip as a noun to mean a pickpocket.
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 12:09
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    @mdewey - not just limited to the noun. I would understand (in context) "dipping" to mean "pickpocketing" and in fact came her to say that!
    – AdamV
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 12:40
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    By analogy with dipping a spoon into a pot of soup. Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 15:37

A coffer is a like a box or a chest for holding valuables. Imagine a box full of gold coins. Now someone is dipping their hands in to the box, taking out handfuls of these gold coins. Of course, companies today store their money in banks. But the idiom has lived on.

  • Specifically, the coffers (literal or metaphorical) hold the company's reserves rather than its everyday working cash. Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 15:49

The imagery is of a ladle dipping into a liquid and taking some out. The verb "dip" is transferred from the ladle to the thing being removed.

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