Scott Adams' cult newspaper comic about Dilbert, an engineer cog in a soulless and bureaucratic corporate machine. The strip is principally a
of the corporate world.
It wasn't always, though. Originally, the comic focused mostly on Dilbert's personal life, with his workplace being an incidental setting. However, Adams worked at a similar high-tech company at the time and his spot-on jabs at the culture made the office-themed strips the most popular. After realizing this, Adams gradually reworked the comic to focus almost entirely on Dilbert's workplace. In the process, the other employees at the company became more prominent characters while prior supporting characters became
unless they could integrate themselves into the workplace setting.
- Acronym Confusion:
"The VC are sick of BNB."
"The Viet Cong are sick of breakfast in bed?"
- Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: Used when when the engineers try to deceive the pointy-haired boss by making up lots of acronyms.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: A lot of the oneshot characters have alliterative names that describe their major personality flaws, such as Disgruntled Doug, Jittery Jeff, and Medical Mel.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: In one strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss is criticizing Dilbert's work (while not being overly specific as to what's wrong). As Dilbert becomes more frustrated, the boss asks Dilbert to "come here so I may pat your head in a condescending manner".
Dogbert: So you took the pat on the head?
Dilbert: I didn't want to leave empty handed.
- Against My Religion: In one strip, Dilbert is summoned to jury duty, and one of the potential jurors claims he cannot serve because it's against his religion, as "only God may judge". This is played for humor when another juror, realizing he can get out of jury duty, quickly claims to have just switched religions (and the first guy calls him a jerk).
- In another comic, Dilbert asks a woman out and she responds with this trope. When he says he's flexible, she explains that's not the issue...
Dilbert (annoyed): Would you believe there's an entire religion devoted to not going out with me?
Dogbert: Where do you think I go every Sunday?
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Comp-U-Comp the Magnificent.
- There's also the time their Spam Filter became self aware and forced them to make an army of killer robots.
- Almighty Janitor: Dilbert's garbage man is a scientist and philosopher, and likely the most intelligent character in the strip. When he was first introduced, he was supposed to be the world's smartest man who just happened to be a garbage man for reasons that only made sense to his superintelligent self ("I think it was the glamour of the job that first intrigued me...").
- Analogy Backfire:
Dogbert (after Dilbert tells him about his problems): Well, you know what they say - when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Dogbert: Well, you know what they say - when life gives you lemons, swell up and die.
PHB: If we can put a man on the Moon, we can build a computer made entirely of recycled paper.
Dilbert: Your flawed analogy only shows that other people can do other things.
PHB: Maybe you should call other people and ask how they do it.
Dilbert: Maybe they use good analogies.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Five Families of Art from the TV show, the group that decides "which paintings are worth $5,000,000, and which ones get put on decorative plates". Also; Dilbert and Dogbert puzzling out that every species thought "extinct" is still around, but hiding out.
- Animorphism: Dilbert once convinced a guy in Marketing that he was turning into a weasel. Owing to the supreme mental malleability of the Marketing employee, he actually did.
- The Annotated Edition: A few of the collections (usually the specialized ones) also have text commentary.
- Anonymous Ringer: Elbonia, albeit Adams has repeatedly denied that he has a certain country in mind. Elbonia is just how he thinks most Americans see the rest of the world (or at least "countries without cable TV"): as backwards idiots wading around in mud.
- Anticlimax Cut:
Dilbert: We've been dating for a year now, Liz. There's something I'd like to do tonight... there are some needs that I can't fulfill at work.
Liz: I understand.
Cut to: Dilbert and Liz working on his computer.
Dilbert: Yes! Yes!
Liz: How long has your internet connection at work been broken?
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?
Take a look at my new invention: the "Dick Tracy
" watch! Dogbert:
Wow! A watch that transmits voices and pictures could revolutionize life on this planet! Dilbert:
Gee, that sounds a lot harder than my idea of gluing a little picture of Dick Tracy on each watch.
- Art Evolution: Dilbert's hair originally looked more like a crew cut, and the boss was originally taller, jowlier, and lacked his trademark pointy hair.
- In one of the most extreme cases ever, would you ever have guessed that the woman in this strip is supposed to be Alice?
- The Artifact: Bob the Dinosaur; to a lesser degree, Phil and Ratbert.
- In Bob's case, this is a Stealth Pun. He's a dinosaur in this comic.
- Even when Bob was a main character, he was still an example of The Artifact, as he wears tennis shoes, which was purely because of a one-off punchline in his introduction that was never mentioned again.
- Ascended Extra: Loud Howard in the animated version. In the strip he's pretty much a one-off joke - how many strips can Adams draw with Howard's speech balloons filling most of the panel? Lampshaded by Dogbert here. In the animated series the actor can shout as loud as he wants.
- Catbert started out as a random cat who hung out at Dilbert's house for a few days. A few years later he returned as Director of Human Resources.
- Wally's character design was used for several different one-off characters before he became a regular. This has been lampshaded a few times, as when Wally mentioned a "Society of People Who Look Like Me."
- Ass Pull: Invoked as a Literal Metaphor here, when the accounting trolls are asked about their budgetary processes.
- Author Avatar: Dogbert, when addressing the reader.
- Background Halo
- Bad Boss: The pointy-haired one.
- And all the rest of them, too. Bosses don't come off well in Dilbert's world.
- Bad News in a Good Way: One way the PHB is known to deliver bad news.
Good news, Dilbert. I'm promoting you to more work! It's the same pay and title. But it must be good because I called it a promotion and I'm smiling! Still... smiling... good... news...
- Bald Women: Dilbert once met a woman like this. Also a case of My Brain Is Big.
- Banana Republic: Elbonia
- The Barnum: Dogbert.
- Bedtime Brainwashing: In one strip, the PHB did this to a higher up to try an increase his department's budget while Wally tried to whisper a command for the higher up to kill the PHB.
- Beleaguered Assistant: You'd feel beleaguered too if you had a boss like that.
- Black Bead Eyes
- Blatant Lies: Wally tells the PHB that he's late for work because his car wouldn't start. After the PHB leaves, Wally admits to Dilbert that he doesn't even have a car.
- Blinding Bangs: A tactic for avoiding Dilbert.
- Bored With Insanity: Alice
- Boss Subtitles: Any strip focusing on Catbert would open with the caption "Catbert: Evil Director of Human Resources".
- One-shot or specialized characters, such as "Phil, prince of insufficient light", "Mordac the Preventer of Information Services" and "The Topper" will also have their own captions at the start of the strip.
- Brain Drain: The company that Dilbert work on often suffers from this, as talented employees move on to better companies.
- Also, In one episode of the animated version, Dilbert manages to get recruited by Nirvana Corporation, the great company that's always steals the best and brightest from his old company. of course, Status Quo Is God - so at the end of the episode he's back in his old cubicle again.
- Brand Name Takeover: Became the topic of one strip when Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, received letters from "Uncle Milton's", the company that owns the trademark "Ant Farm". He had to print a retraction and apology.
Dilbert: So, what do you call a habitat for worthless and disgusting little creatures?
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: From the TV show: "The class covers sitting in your chair, pointing towards the elevator, shooing smokers away from the lobby, and killing an intruder with your thumb."
- Brutal Honesty: A rare moment when the PHB gives it a try.
- Busy Beaver: Subverted with a beaver that Dogbert meets, who happens to be lazy and bought a planner and expected it to do the work for him.
- Butt Monkey: Dilbert. Possibly Alice as well. Occasionally Wally, though he's made a science of not caring about it and mitigating the consequences.
- Caffeine Bullet Time / Gigantic Gulp: Dilbert at one point begins carrying around a giant coffee cup on his back because it functions as a "will to live" substitute. As a result, he goes through simple bullet time (finishing all his projects in one day) to getting X-ray vision, precognition, and telekinesis. Although it was All Just a Dream...
- Casual Kink: Dilbert once chatted with a woman calling herself Mistress Cruella. Afterward, he looked quite startled. What she said to him was, of course, left to the reader's imagination.
- Catapult to Glory: Elbonian airlines, wherein "First Class" is when they don't intentionally fling you at something hard. The animated version simply uses really, really terrible airplanes.
- Catch-22 Dilemma: Carol explains to Dilbert that he can't order new pens because "you need a pen to fill out the pen request form. And if you have a pen, you're not allowed to order one."
- Dilbert loses his ID and is told to go to the security office to get a new one. The problem with this is that he's not allowed to go to the security office without his ID.
- The PHB reads two memos, one which says that all official company documents must be recycled to meet the corporate sustainability goals, and one says that all official company documents must not be recycled to meet the corporate security goals. He reads them off at every weekly meeting because he doesn't know how to get rid of them.
- The PHB tells Tina that she has to use the Danville Font as per corporate policy, but when she says she'll buy the Danville Font software immediately, he says there's a budget freeze on software purchases.
Tina: So ... the Danville Font is both mandatory and prohibited?
- Cats Are Mean: Catbert
- The Chain of Harm: Seen in this Dilbert strip.
- Characterization Marches On: The Pointy-Haired Boss and (perhaps) the CEO
- Dilbert also. In earlier strips, he's frustrated by the policies, management and unscrupulous coworkers at Incompetence, Inc.. Later, he gets Genre Savvy and starts being able to predict exactly why his latest project will fail in advance. Now, he's so adept at this that he's sometimes able to work the system to his advantage.
- Alice went through a similar character arc only originally she tended to solve all her problems through violence whereas now she mixes in some intimidation and aggressive office politics.
- Tina started out as a Straw Feminist, a trait which was gradually ratcheted back after reader complaints. Now she's generally a more feminine counterpart to Alice. Word of God is that she was supposed to be emotionally brittle and take offense at everyhing, but it came off wrong.
- Chess Motifs: The continual, seemingly haphazard process of office relocations made the employees feel like pawns. Then the PHB brought in the new dress code.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Bob's mate Dawn and son Rex; Bob himself is still in the strip, but just barely.
- Zimbu the monkey hasn't been since the mid-'90s, probably for the same reason.
- Web Mistress Ming (in charge of the company's internet) was a regular character in the early Oughties, even dating Dilbert and the Boss for a time. She hasn't appeared since around 2003 though.
- Comic-Book Time: After twenty years, Dilbert still seems to be in his thirties or so.
- This was lampshaded in one strip showing the office in 1985, 1990 and 1995, in which the Boss and Wally both noticeably age, but Dilbert always looks exactly the same.
- Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For: Dilbert once got free "therapy" from a psychiatrist who told him that his problem was that he's ugly and he should drink until he feels handsome. Walking out the door, he tells the receptionist, "You're overpriced."
- Computer Equals Monitor: All other methods having failed, Alice attempts to close Skype by "drowning" her monitor.
- Confusion Fu: The company needs to cover up some shady accounting practices. The PHB tells Dilbert to destroy all the accounting records. Dilbert points out that this is illegal, so the PHB tells him to just make the records more confusing.
- Conservation of Competence: And it didn't go to the pointy haired boss
- Contortionist: Dilbert accidentally hits one with his car, who then rag dolls to make the accident look worse than it really is.
- Contrived Clumsiness:
- In Dogbert's Clues for the Clueless, Dogbert examines the conundrum of being seated in public next to a man who spreads his legs too much. He recommends "accidentally" spilling a drink in the offender's lap. "Oops! Something bumped my leg."
- In one strip, Dilbert is at a cocktail party and two women are holding an impromptu "spill stuff on him" party. The final panel shows Dilbert back at home wearing the rags of his shirt, after they'd hit him with lighter fluid.
- When Dilbert hosts an all-day staff meeting at his house, his sadistic co-workers assign Alice to critique the decor and Ted to "accidentally" spill things. In the last panel, Ted spills mayonnaise on the wall.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Invoked when their house is robbed and Dilbert tells Dogbert they should become vigilantes to punish the man responsible.
Dilbert: It's not justice we seek - it's revenge! We must make him suffer.
Dogbert: Tell him one of your stories about work.
- Clothing Switch
- Crapsack World: In this case, it's a crapsack business world; just about every businessman who isn't a total crook or a professional shirker is overworked, unappreciated and/or deadbeat.
- Not just the business world, though - whenever the strip touches on anything outside of business, it makes it look just as bleak. This is made clear by a government agent in one strip:
You citizens have the right to pursue happiness
. You're not allowed to be
- Elbonia with its waist-deep mud and fourth world status, most definitely counts. It is explicitly created to be about as miserable nation as one can imagine.
- Crazy-Prepared: A necessary tactic when your managers and co-workers are chronically incompetent, actively malicious, or both — i.e. all the time at Dilbert's workplace. Even generic Ted and lazy Wally know how to bust out this trope, and Dilbert lampshaded it at least once when he was too prepared. Alice certainly doesn't mess around, either.
- Damned By a Fool's Praise: Any idea the Pointy Haired Boss likes will be seen as stupid. He's also a fan of Barney the Dinosaur.
- Deadpan Snarker: Dilbert, especially with his infamous Power Point presentations on the department's various new issues. Dogbert as well, when talking to Dilbert. And Alice, every single time she says a word to the PHB. And Carol, like, all the time. In fact, Deadpan Snark is the mode all the intelligent characters switch to every time they start talking about work.
- Dilbert lampshades this in a presentation he did at a meeting when he says one of the few positive things can be said about the people at his company is their ability to speak honestly without seemingly having any fear of recrimination for being so overly negative.
- It doesn't help that Adams himself is often this.
- Death Is Cheap: Dilbert, Dogbert, Asok and the Pointy Haired Boss have all come back from the dead. Usually through cloning.
- Delegation Relay
- Deliberately Cute Child: encountered by Dogbert while he's playing investigative reporter.
- Demoted to Extra: Bob the Dinosaur, as mentioned above. Compare his 45 appearances in 1990 (according to this) with three in 2010.
- Descriptiveville: An extremely early strip has bovine-looking aliens from the planet Moothron visit Dogbert.
- Disastrous Demonstration: All the time.
- Dismotivation: Wally
- Disposable Intern: The Pointy-Haired Boss is seen carrying a corpse to a skip. He turns to camera (Fourth Wall?) and says "I love hiring these temporary workers! No benefits, no union, no contract, and you can just toss 'em in the dumpster when you're done!"
- Disproportionate Retribution: One Sunday strip considers what to do with people with annoying habits. The first example is someone who laughs nervously after every sentence. Dogbert responds by exiling him to a distant planet.
- Secretary With A Crossbow. People get shot with the crossbow for offences like cutting in line at the copy machine.
- The Ditz / Cloudcuckoolander: Ratbert
- Drama Queen: Mentioned by name. Alice tells the PHB that she doesn't want to work with Ted on a project because he is a drama queen who will just slow her down. Ted immediately phones Human Resources and tells them Alice is being a bully.
- Dress Code: Parodied, like every other office trope.
- Explored again when the main cast receives a permanent wardrobe change in October 2014 that alters their signature suit-and-tie formals into business casuals consisting of polo shirts with lanyard-ed badges and identically colored slacks. Unsurprisingly this new dress code is aptly named "Business Dorky" and is viewed as even more dehumanizing than before. The old dress code lingered in the Sunday strips for several more weeks before the new design was phased in.
- Dumbass Has a Point: Done by the Pointy-Haired Boss when describing the other departments as being staffed with professional liars. It kind of scares Dilbert.
- Early Installment Weirdness: For the first couple of years, the strip focused less on office humor and more on Dilbert's personal life; overall, it read like a "Garfield for Nerds." Then Adams learned the office strips were the most popular, and the rest is history.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Play with and played straight on occasion.
- Evil Inc./Incompetence, Inc.: Depending on the joke.
- Evolutionary Levels: Aside from the opening animation on the tv show that reenacts the famous depiction of evolution, smart characters are frequently shown to have larger heads and psychic powers. The artwork would suggest that neanderthals still walk among us as well.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: LOUD HOWARD, who is...wait for it...loud.
- Also the Pointy-Haired Boss, Dilbert's boss with pointy hair.
- The one-off character Single Task Bob, who is completely incapable of multitasking.
- Exact Words:
PHB: Take care of this immediately. It's your top priority.
Dilbert: Top priority?? This is dated last month. It's been on your desk for weeks and now it's your top priority??
PHB: I said it's your top priority. I still don't care about it.
- Exotic Entree: Dilbert is temporarily transferred to Marketing, which appears to be a 24-7 Toga party. Lunch that day is barbecued unicorn.
Dilbert: (staring at the unicorn horn on a bun) I don't think this is really the "best part".
- Expressive Hair: Dilbert's 'do becomes pointy and jagged when he is under stress.
- When the Pointy-Haired Boss's hair sticks up to emulate devil horns, watch out!
- Express Lane Limit:
Cashier: This looks like a lot more than ten items, ma'am.
Woman: It doesn't matter. I'm old and you must do as I say.
- Eye Beams: The CEO has them, apparently. We only get to see their effects on Asok, though.
- Failure Is the Only Option: At least for Dilbert and most of his coworkers. They only ever succeed either at petty tasks they get no satisfaction from or by redefining victory conditions to get a perverse sense of satisfaction from failing the right way. In fact, the PHB's assignments to Dilbert are constructed so that Failure Is the Only Option before it's started (usually not on purpose).
- In one strip, Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light curses Dilbert to make a Sadistic Choice: he'll either live a life of poverty rich in service to humanity, or else enjoy material success but have to watch all his work burnt in front of him every evening. Dilbert is overjoyed, since either option is far better than his current career.
- Fantastic Racism: The Elbonian right-handed and left-handed supremacists.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Deliberately averted in the Elbonians, who have an utterly nonsensical combination of cultural traits to justify using them as stand-ins for any situation involving crazy/evil/stupid foreigners without offending anyone.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink
- Fantasy Twist: Dilbert considers developing a way of leading his entire life from his bathtub. He then fantasises about being interviewed by a group of reporters about his revolutionary new lifestyle, but soon they criticise his system as pointless and even remark that bathing was an inefficient form of cleaning, until Dilbert complains, "This fantasy's been a profound disappointment".
- Felony Misdemeanor: The PHB takes the last cup of coffee without making a new pot, screams, "Look at me!! I'm taking the last drop!!", then gives an over-the-top Evil Laugh.
- Fisher Kingdom: Staying in the Accounting Department for too long turns people into trolls.
- Flanderization: The strip as a whole Flanderized into focusing solely on Dilbert's office life. Dilbert himself went through reverse Flanderization, starting out as a socially inept nerd but later becoming The Everyman.
- Played straight with Dilbert's boss. In early strips he was an insensitive jerk but not noticeably stupid or incompetent. Whether coincidentally or not, the Boss evolved into a blundering moron around the time he developed his distinctive hairstyle.
- Similarly, Dilbert's company in general went from a believably cold and impersonal corporation (albeit with fantasy elements) to one actively trying to harm and torture its employees.
- While Wally always tried to find ways to get out of work, he used to show intelligence and skill hidden beneath his pervasive cynicism. In the past decade, laziness has become Wally's sole defining trait.
- For Inconvenience, Press "1": The automated sadistic phone system used in the payroll department.
- From Bad to Worse: Bad news: the company isn't giving any raises this year. Worse news: but the company believes hard work is its own reward. Much worse news: Employees can expect to be "rewarded" twice as much next year.
- Funny Foreigner: Elbonians
- Fun with Flushing: A nameless character leaves his cell phone on his desk while he's out of his cubicle. The phone rings every few minutes and drives Alice crazy. When the character returns, he asks Alice if she has seen his cell phone, and Alice says, "Was it metallic, noisy and flushable?"
- Geeky Turn-On: "Talk COBOL to me, baby!"
- Golden Mean Fallacy: Parodied in this strip◊.
- Guest Comic: There was a week of them in 2003, drawn by Lynn Johnston, Darby Conley, Pat Brady, Greg Evans, and Stephan Pastis.
- The Generic Guy: Ted.
- Godwin's Law: Parodied:
Ratbert: I'm debating on the internet! Ha ha! I'm winning every argument by saying the same thing!
Dilbert: What's that?
Ratbert: "How would you like it if Hitler killed you?"
Dilbert: (annoyed) Hey, I debated you last night!
- Goshdang It To Heck: Phil, Prince of Insufficient Light, Supreme Ruler of Heck
- Gravity Is Only a Theory: In one strip, Dogbert theorize that gravity is optional and that this is the reason why most people are stupid: Smart people question everything, and when they start questioning gravity they get flung out into space.
- Hair Today Gone Tomorrow: One strip shows the office in 1985, 1990 and 1995. Wally is a straight example of the trope, having hair in the past and being bald today. The Pointy-Haired Boss' hair changes based on how his early character design differed. Dilbert stays exactly the same.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Tina the Tech Writer interprets just about everything as a slur against her profession and/or gender. Dogbert manages to set her off by mentioning that the Venus de Milo has no arms ("Oh, so you're saying women can't lift heavy objects?!") as well as The Three Stooges ("Why are all documentaries about men?!") Adams ratcheted this trait back after her introductory arc, possibly because of complaints he got (see Unfortunate Implications).
- Handshake Refusal: One etiquette book has Dogbert explain that this is the "right" way to respond if someone tries to shake your hand after you sneeze into it. The "wrong" way is to shake anyway and let them know afterwards, and the "playful" way is to shake and claim that the moisture is because you just washed your hand.
- Have You Tried Rebooting?: One way Dogbert tortures his tech support callers is to ask them a long series of questions and then transfer them to a low level technician who can only tell them to reboot and who will repeat all of Dogbert's questions.
Caller: Hello, I ...
Dogbert: Shut up and reboot.
Caller: Hey, it work ...
Dogbert: Shut up and hang up. (thinking to himself), My average call time is improving.
- Heads Tails Edge: When Ratbert gets psychic powers.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Dogbert. Also Wally to a lesser degree. To clarify, Wally is at least as sociopathic as Dogbert, but he's not as heroic. But on the other hand, Wally's sociopathy tends to manifest in milder, less harmful ways. Usually.
Wally: Apparently, I'm insane. But I'm one of the happy kinds.
- Historical-Domain Character: Rasputin, Albert Einstein and "Wilt Gandhi."
- Hollywood Dateless: Dilbert does get a lot of first dates, but they almost always end badly. He did have an actual relationship several years ago, but there were constant references to this violating the very laws of nature. (Also Adams discovered he couldn't draw the girlfriend character to look older than twelve.)
- Homemade Inventions: Dilbert regularly built these in the early days.
- Idiot Houdini: The pointy-haired boss, although in case it's by company design.
- Implausible Deniability: Wally tells the PHB that he's late for work because his cart wouldn't start in the cold weather. The PHB says it's a warm day, but Wally blames the windchill factor for his car trouble. Later, he admits to Dilbert that he doesn't even have a car.
- Improbable Hairstyle: Alice.
- Inhuman Resources
- Insane Troll Logic: frequently invoked with the Boss, Catbert and other management characters. Here is a classic example:
Alice: Have you noticed that every time we disagree, I'm eventually proved correct?
PHB: Yes, but I'm always right initially!
- Inventor of the Mundane: Dilbert's great-grandfather was the inventor of sliced bread, the greatest thing since unsliced bread.
- It's a Long Story: A favourite parody device.
Wally: I will make Loud Howard your cubicle neighbor in the next office unless you give me your immortal soul!
Dilbert: (later) ...Fortunately, I convinced him to take my laser printer instead.
Dogbert: What did I say that sounded like "Tell me about your day"?
- It's Been Done Dilbert's Max-10 energy transfer model.
Dogbert: Did the name "electric stove" occur to you at any time?
- Karma Houdini: As part of the strip's point that the Corporation is soulless and unstoppable in its efforts to suck you in, the Pointy-Haired Boss and Catbert are shown doing exactly what they want to underlings with no fear of repercussion (e.g., Alice accuses the Pointy-Haired Boss of sexism to no avail and Catbert has done things that would normally lead to a lawsuit).
- The Key Is Behind the Lock: Dilbert tells an IT guy that his network password isn't working, and the guy tells him to fill out a help request online or send an e-mail about the problem; Dilbert can't do either of these things because his network password isn't working.
- Kick Me Prank: Dilbert thinks his co-workers have put a sign on his back, and leaves work early to avoid being slapped on the back constantly. Turned out there was no sign, but the men's room was out of paper towels and they were using Dilbert's shirt to dry their hands.
- Kill and Replace: Killing your customers and replacing them with body doubles that place bigger orders is a preferred technique in the sales department.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: The PHB acts like one of these on occasion. For example, he once said that Dilbert's new design would not work in the real world, and Dilbert replied that the design was already widely used in the real world.
Dilbert: I can come back later if you need time to concoct additional uninformed criticisms.
- Dogbert did this deliberately when he decided to spend more time criticizing things he didn't understand (because he's just obnoxious like that):
Dogbert: I say we should flat-tax the Kyoto Treaty all the way back to the Security Council!
Dilbert: Wouldn't that be unfair to stem cells?
- Kwyjibo: Jequirity.
- In the TV series, Comp-U-Comp plays "Wipqosn", then promptly hacks into all the online dictionaries in the world to add it.
- Laborious Laziness: Wally has been shown to be very active in his efforts to not do any work.
- Dilbert once created an elaborate "stealth business suit" to avoid getting assignments at work. Sound dampers prevented him from hearing anything people said, special polymers prevented sticky notes from attaching to the suit, and his cell phone and pager were encased in lead so he wouldn't get any calls. This led to a Headphones Equal Isolation moment when he didn't hear Dogbert trying to remind him that it was Saturday.
- Large Ham: Comp-U-Comp. "SIIIILENCE!"
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In this strip
PHB: We're not made of ink.
Dilbert: Why'd I just get the chills?
PHB: Me too. It feels like some sort of forbidden knowledge.
- Lopsided Dichotomy: In "The Dilbert Principle", Scott Adams describes the two possible results of a career in engineering:
Risk: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people.
Reward: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.
- At the end of a Dilbert arc, Dilbert wonders why he's sitting naked in a trash can, and Dogbert explains:
"Either you were killed by wild deer and we cloned you back to life from your old garbage... or... you saved a lot of money on an aboveground pool."
- Mad Scientist: In the first comic Dilbert decided that they should work along more classic lines, like doctor Frankenstein, however Dogbert wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea of playing Igor.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: When Loud Howard gets hysterical, his voice is known to hurl people backward several feet and cause building walls to crumble.
- Marshmallow Dream: Wally has a strange dream about getting smarter by willing it so, with his forehead expanding to match, and wakes up with his pillow missing. As Dilbert comments,
Wow, you woke up in the wrong joke!
- Meaningful Name: The company Dilbert and co work for is called "Path-E-Tech Management", due to a number of mergers.
- The company once had plans to change their name to "Stinking Weasels Incorporated" with the motto "We steal in ways you've never even heard of". The fact that the board of directors actually considered this name change should tell you something.
- Also, Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services, has a name that is very nearly a reversal of CD-ROM.
- LOUD HOWARD! Elbonians are an interesting example, and then you have the animalberts. If Catbert's a cat and Dogbert's a dog, does that make Dilbert a pickle?
- Scott Adams even pulled this off in real life. When, for a newspaper article, he posed as a famous consultant, he used the pseudonym "Ray Mebert."
- Peri Noid, an employee whose name sounds similar to "paranoid" and who believes that everyone else in the office is secretly plotting against her.
- Megaton Punch: Alice has an interesting one: She'll tell someone that she'll do something to them so hard that an odd effect will happen, such as snapping someone's suspenders so hard they'll end up in next Thursday, or punch an MBA so hard that everyone with an MBA will feel it. The actual action is skipped, but the end panel implies that what she speaks is truth.
Alice: *thinks* Uh-oh, intuition is activating the Fist of Death.
- The final panel of one such strip is actually captioned "Next Thursday", and features Alice's antagonist slumped unconscious across the threshold of a time portal!
- Millennium Bug: Generally mocked in the strip, as when Dogbert deliberately spreads Y2K fears on the grounds that 2000 is "big and ROUND!" Played straight, however, in the TV show.
- Interestingly the TV show not only played it straight, but dealt with a more realistic problem and outcome where they have to update the company's outdated mainframe rather than the crazy, apocalyptic themes of other Y2K based comedy.
- Misery Poker: The recurring character Topper is built around this trope, bragging (or complaining) that his accomplishment or suffering is greater than whoever he's talking to. He'll go to extreme lengths to prove it.◊
- Monkeys on a Typewriter: According to Dogbert, Dilbert's poem could be written by three monkeys in ten minutes.
- Moral Guardians: In one strip, Dilbert makes a device that filters out all morally questionable material from television programs. The only thing that the device approves is weather reports ... at first. Then there's a weather report about a huge tornado, which could be considered violent, so the device starts filtering weather reports as well.
- Motionless Makeover: Dogbert takes advantage of Dilbert being in a "game trance" and stacks dishes on his head.
- Multi Boobage: This strip
- Mundane Fantastic: Talking animals that run corporations (sadistically, of course), or even the U.N. for a short time, various semi-human personifications of office inhabitant types (from a moth-man attracted by meetings to a parasitic consultant that burrowed through the Pointy-Haired Boss to get to his wallet to an evil Youthful Executive who was killed and possessed), a garbage man who invents time travel and species-changing rays because he hates to see it done wrong, and dinosaurs hiding behind couches instead of going extinct. And nobody bats an eye while the world remains roughly the same as ours, for a given value of "same". According to Adams himself, people keep writing to him to tell him how realistic the strip is. He figures it's because it's impossible to exaggerate selfishness so much it's unrealistic.
- Mundane Utility: In an early strip, Dilbert invents an antigravity chemical, which is marketed as...uh...that is...look, just read it.
- Must Have Caffeine: Wally got sent to rehab for a severe coffee addiction, but he relapsed right after he was discharged. The fact that the coffee rehab centre was right next to Starbucks World Headquarters might have had something to do with this.
- Carol's doctor suggested she switch to decaf, so she replaced all of the office coffee with decaf for her convenience. The other employees were soon sprawled on the floor in a near-comatose state.
- Naked People Are Funny: Mike the Vegan boasts about using no animal products whatsoever. Dilbert points out that Mike's clothes are made by machines that use coal and oil, and coal and oil come from dead dinosaurs. In the next panel, Mike arrives at work naked, thinking about how he should start making exceptions to his beliefs.
- Negative Continuity: Most notably, Dogbert takes over Dilbert's company once every two months or so. (The animated series had even more Negative Continuity, regularly featuring The End of the World As We Know It.)
- Never My Fault: The PHB's attitude through and through. In one comic, he says that whenever he and Dilbert talk, he ends up yelling, which must mean Dilbert has poor interpersonal skills and forces him to take a class to improve them. Dilbert responds: "It looks like you've gained weight. Would you like me to exercise to take care of that too?"
- No Fourth Wall: Parodied when Scott gets stuck in the comic, and must get home in an homage to The Wizard of Oz.
- No Indoor Voice: LOUD HOWARD!
- No Mouth: Dilbert, except when he's suitably pissed off.
- Dilbert originally never had a mouth. Then the TV show routinely gave him a mouth when speaking. Since then Adams has increasingly slipped.
- No Name Given: Dilbert, Wally, Alice and Asok do not have last names. The Boss has no name at all. Neither does the company.
- Turned into a running joke in the cartoon regarding the Boss. He would often sign something, and the name he signed with would be promptly brought up, only for the Boss to reveal it to be an alias of some sort. The one time he apparently did use his real name, it wasn't actually mentioned.
- It's been theorized that Wally's last name is Norman.
- Nonhuman Sidekick
- Non Indicative Name: Dogbert's Tech Support. If you call this hotline, you will receive no support whatsoever.
- No Swastikas: When strips involving the Cubicle Gestapo were shown in newspapers, it was changed to "Police" to avoid complaints.
- The "Right-Supremacist" Elbonians from the TV show have what appears to be Nazi armbands. Upon closer inspection, the emblem is a capital "R", slanted to the right.
- Nothing but Skin and Bones: A short sequence of some early strips observed Dilbert's date with a supermodel, who was drawn as a literal skeleton, and did not eat on their dinner date but instead simply sniffed the mints.
- Now You Tell Me: Dilbert hands the PHB his final design for Project Zebra after working night and day for weeks to meet the deadline, only for the PHB to say that he cancelled the project a month ago and had been meaning to tell Dilbert about it.
- Odd Job Gods: the Demon of Demos and Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light, the ruler of Lower Heck, punisher of sins too insignificant for Hell.
- Also Dogbert, who in one early strip was made "God of Velcro" by Thor, in an attempt to modernize the Norse pantheon. Apparently, there's promotions to be expected at some point. Thor himself started out as "God of Static Cling". Interestingly, Dogbert at one point charged himself up on a carpet and appointed himself "Thor, Dog of Thunder."
- Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Every department of Dilbert's company is portrayed as incompetent and corrupt. Yet somehow, they're keeping themselves in business. Given the Crapsack World they live in, their competitors may be just as bad, and their customers are definitely stupid enough to keep buying their products.
- Then again, the competitors are usually spoken of as being better than their company in every way.
- Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: "Your pros are..waffles, eggs, bananas and milk."
- Only Sane Man: Seems to drift around. The boss even plays the role once in a while.
- The Operators Must Be Crazy: Dogbert uses the phrase "How may we abuse you?" while he is a phone operator.
- Our Vampires Are Different: One-time, but hey, it works.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: Dogbert as a film reviewer is asked how much he'd need to be bribed say a New-Years-release comedy film is "funniest movie this year so far".
- Paintball Episode: In one strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss signs the team up for a paintball course as a "team building exercise", but instead of them going out to a paintballing field, he interprets it as hunting them in the office with a paintball gun, without them being aware of it. Obviously, they don't have on any protective gear, and in the confines of office spaces it would've been difficult to avoid "point blank" shots, both of which are major no-nos.
- In one episode of the animated series, Alice starts one of these. In Dilbert's house. For an off-site meeting. She is notably one of the only ones who has protective gear aside from eyewear.
- Painting the Medium:
Dilbert: ...What if you succeed in your campaign to censor opera? Before you know it, somebody will try to censor other forms of art.
(Dogbert and Dilbert speak in empty speech bubbles.)
- Paranoia Fuel: Invoked by Dogbert as part of a scheme to dissuade people from returning faulty products; the security questions asked by the product recall phone-in are "What is your home address?" and "When do you shower?"
- One strip had phone operators instructed to tell people that instead of getting an empty box, the customers had received an "invisible robot who was somewhere in the room, watching them."
- People Puppets: Literally, even.
- Petting Zoo People: In one arc, the 'Curse of Dogbert' turned everyone who sent or received a chain letter into an anthropomorphic dog.
- Phony Psychic: Dogbert became a "furniture psychic" for awhile. He wore a tall purple hat with a moon on it and passed along various messages from office furniture.
Carol: The furniture psychic is here and he says my wastebasket is in love with my desk.
- Pick Up Babes With Babes: Dilbert tried this with fake babies. The first time he tossed two at a Cashier that tried to avoid having her named revealed, and that was foiled. In another strip, a woman was attracted to him - but a fly was pestering him so much that he forgot he was trying to pick up girls and used one of the babies to smash it.
Dilbert: It's tough love.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Trope Namer
- That Poor Plant: Wally's office plant, during the arc where he dumps his coffee grounds into it.
- Powersuit Monkey: Zimbu, who becomes a rival for Dilbert's job.
- Prehensile Tail: A monkey has an advantage over humans because of his tail being able to use a mouse.
- Professional Slacker: Wally.
- Psychic Powers: Multiple examples, a couple of Dilbert's weird dates are telepathic, in one arc Ratbert displays telekinesis and ESP until a skeptic "disproves" it, and it in the late "noughties" Asok turns out to have learned some immense powers at the Indian Institute of Technology.
- Punishment Box: The PHB tries this once as a management tactic. Dilbert just asks if "the Box" is bigger than his cubicle.
- Remix Comic: The website invites people to make Mashups of strips.
- Retcon: Recently, a Dilbert strip has made Asok gay. Which makes some of the early strips having him hit on Alice, make people wonder........To be fair though this is a conscious decision by Scott Adams to protest the Indian law banning people from being born Gay. Yes you heard right, it is now a crime to be BORN GAY IN INDIA.
- Retconning the Wiki: One cartoon has the character Topper make a string of implausible claims about his achievements. When the other characters ask for proof, he replies "Give me ten minutes, then check Wikipedia."
- Ruritania: Elbonia again.
- Safe, Sane and Consensual: In one strip (28 August 2010), the Pointy-Haired Boss is trying to make people believe that slave labor is okay by pretending that "slave" really refers to the BDSM kind of slavery rather then economical exploitation of poor people. See the Happiness in Slavery page illustration.
- Sanity Ball: Every major worker at Dilbert's company is the Only Sane Man in their own way, and the Dysfunction Junction is partly kept going by the fact that everyone can trade off the job of "person who doesn't know what they're talking about."
- Sapient Cetaceans: strips had him trapped miles from shore while dolphins taunted him for hours ("Let's ask the humming fish to do the Jaws theme song...").
- Shoddy Knockoff Product: Dilbert mocks this trope regularly with such things at the "Wibsters Dictionary".
- Shout-Out: One episode from very early in the strip's run was featured in Garfield's 20th Anniversary Collection in 1998. The strip referenced a then-current fad involving little Garfield plushies with suction cups on car windows:
Dilbert: The neighbors said you glued little suction cups on their kitten and stuck him on their car window.
Dogbert: What's your problem, some kind of copyright infringement?
- Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon: Parodied.
- The Slacker: Wally.
- Sock It To Them: The book Dogbert's Clues for the Clueless explains that, though tube socks and a paperweight make useless gifts by themselves, they can be combined into something useful for assaulting the gift-giver.
- Something Else Also Rises: Dilbert's tie is usually flipped up at the end. During one arc, Dilbert had a girlfriend who genuinely liked him. Adams took a poll to see whether his fans wanted Dilbert to get laid, and said that if it happened he'd draw Dilbert's tie straight. They Do.
- Dilbert's tie also flattened when he encountered "Antina, the non-stereotypical woman." In that instance, Adams suggested it was a Throwaway Gag with no deeper significance.
- Springtime for Hitler: Wally, who is based on a former co-worker of Adams' who discovered that the company was offering a very generous severance package for the worst workers, and made it his goal to qualify. "Ordinarily this wouldn't have been as much fun to watch," wrote Adams, "but this man was one of the more brilliant people that I've met, and was completely dedicated to his goal."
- According to the specialized collection What Would Wally Do?, "Wally 1.0" (Adams' name for the aforementioned co-worker) succeeded.
- Spy Speak
- Status Quo Is God: Very much so.
- Stealth Pun: Adams loves these; perhaps the best ever followed a sequence when Dilbert invented tubular luggage out of "Pringles" cans and Dogbert referred to it as "Dorkage". This led to a strip where Dogbert addressed the readers directly.
Dogbert: I recently received this angry letter from a mister "Dork". Mr. Dork informs me that the many people surnamed Dork are not amused by the recent usage of the word "dorkage" in the strip. He demands an apology. I apologize to all the dorks who were offended. I hope we can put this behind us.
- Remember, the strip is writen all in capital letters.
- Story Arc: Dilbert story arcs usually play themselves out in a few days to a week, soon returning to square one. The two longest-running story lines were an early series where Dogbert becomes King of Elbonia, and a more recent one where Dogbert takes over Dilbert's company, Dilbert loses his job and spends weeks looking for work. Both plotlines took almost a month to resolve.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial:
I just wanted to address any rumors you may have heard. We are NOT
planning on relocating the company to the South Pole where easily-trained native Eskimos
will replace you.
Dilbert: That's good, because Eskimos don't live at the South Pole.
Excuse me, I have to go make a phone call...
- Swiss Bank Account: Dilbert once tried to withdraw money from the Bank Of Ethel, only to find out that Ethel had changed all the accounts to secret Swiss accounts without even notifying the bank's customers beforehand. Then when Dilbert asked for the password to his new secret account, Ethel refused to give it to him because "it's a secret."
- Talking Animal
- Take That: An early series of strips slammed Zippy The Pinhead with Dogbert's own comic, Pippy the Ziphead.
- During the infamous Y2K scare, the PHB needed to hire someone with COBOL skills. He picked Bob the Dinosaur because he "look[ed] like a COBOL programmer."
- Another strip explicitly mocks Norman Solomon, author of The Trouble With Dilbert. Adams also devoted a chapter of his book The Joy of Work to answering Solomon's criticisms.
- This strip snipes at how difficult it can be to tell Skype to close and stay closed.
- Take That Me: Often done in regards to Adams' talent as an artist. Any strip with a poll (such as the ones to "fire" or retain characters) will feature an option along the lines of "Learn how to draw", while one early strip had Dilbert get sucked into the Internet, describing it as "a Calvin and Hobbes fantasy without the artistic look".
- Theme Naming: Everything Dilbert owns is given the prefix "Dil" or the suffix "Bert" For example, he drives the Dilcar, and has "Dilmom" instead of a properly-named mother.
- According to Word of God, Dogbert's original name was Dildog before the cartoon was syndicated.
- They Killed Kenny: A variation appears in the form of Ted the Generic Guy. He is repeatedly fired for more or less ridiculous reasons, only to be back to be fired again in true Negative Continuity style. (He also died in at least three strips.) Either there are a lot of guys named Ted, or this trope is in play. The cartoon implies that Ted is so generic, nobody can find or identify him, so other people get the blame for his work.
- The cartoon actually comes right out and says that there may be more than one Ted in the company, nobody really knows.
Dilbert: Ted, I want you to...Ted. Ted! TED!!
Ted the Generic Guy: My name's not Ted.
Dilbert: What is it then?
Ted the Generic Guy: Well, it's Ted, but not the Ted you're thinking of.
- Trolling Translator: This strip has translators at the UN intentionally giving wrong translations as a "reckless prank" in the words of the narrator.
Turban-wearing translator: He says "Who wants my parking space by the elevator?"
- Trust-Building Blunder: Though in this case, the person at fault wasn't the person catching (Dilbert) but the one falling (the boss, who fell forwards, prompting Dogbert to remark that maybe trust isn't the issue here).
- Truth in Television: there are university-level business and management courses where Dilbert is required reading.
- Ask any Cubicle Drone: Dilbert's not a comic, it's a documentary.
- It helps that a small but significant percentage of the strips are directly based on reader submitted true stories. And of course, he drew heavily on his own experience for some of his major characters.
- The creator has stated that many times he has done a strip with the most outrageously stupid management blunder he could think of, only to have readers write in with far more outrageous stupid management blunder stories from real life.
- TV Genius: Averted with the garbageman, who is the smartest man in the world and yet continues to be a garbageman.
- It apparently makes perfect sense, but you have to be the smartest man in the world to understand why.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: This strip.
- Undead Author: parodied
- Unicorns Are Sacred: When he is assigned to the Marketing department as a punishment, Dilbert discovers a group of otherworldly Elf-like types who boast every Friday as unicorn barbecue day. (Naturally, the eternal loser Dilbert gets the bun with the horn in). But elsewhere in the Dilbert universe, we are told Marketing is a place of great and terrible primal evil... (in other strips, Marketing and Sales conspire to make life Hell for engineers by selling things they haven't designed yet. Hell: Marketing sell things that haven't been invented yet and which are generally scientifically impossible...).
- Unusual Euphemism: "Oh, carp."
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Dilbert has a lab accident that turns him into a sheep. When he starts to explain this at a meeting, Wally simply asks why people think their problems are interesting to other people.
- Unwanted Assistance: One-shot character "The Too Helpful Guy", who in-universe Flanderises a character saying they like something into assuming they're obsessed with it, and giving them gifts accordingly.
- Video Phone: One strip involves Dilbert being the first person in the city to own a videophone. He then sits next to the phone, waiting for someone else to buy one so he can call them.
- Weasel Co-Worker: Every subordinate tries this at least some of the time. Wally in particular.
- Wildlife Commentary Spoof: This strip: 
- Windmill Crusader: Many surreal jokes based on the premise that one character lives in his own little reality. Sadly, this is often a character who has power - or who gains power by enforcing her crazy perceptions on others.
- Windmill Political: While also playing it straight sometimes, Dilbert is famous for a deconstruction of this trope: Dogbert openly advises people to pick a harmless person and make him seem like a threat. Then destroy him, and have people reward you for saving you from the "threat". (The deconstruction part is that Dogbert is completely open and public with his cynicism, thus defeating the purpose.)
- This is a variation on one of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. The book is in play.
- World of Pun: Too many to go into, but during the early years of Dilbert, Scott Adams was really, really into puns (very little office humor was involved, Dilbert was ostensibly an engineer just to provide a context for nerd-jokes and nerdy jokes).
- World of Snark: Just about everyone is either a Deadpan Snarker or the punchline for one.
- X Days Since: there's a strip where somebody is putting up a sign that reads "8 days since the last accident", and then falls off the office chair he was using as a step stool.
Dilbert: How ironic.
Worker: No, it was ironic when it happened 8 days ago.
- You Answered Your Own Question: During a sales presentation in this strip
- You Didn't Ask: Apparently, when asking the lab to do a test, the question "Can you do it?" is not implied.
- You Know What You Did: parodied in this strip.