Dilbert: Lately, every person I deal with seems to disappoint me. Every meeting starts late, every answer is misleading, every deadline is ignored and all work is shoddily done. I guess what I'm saying is that today I need some empathy.
Scott Adams' cult newspaper comic about Dilbert, an engineer cog in a soulless and bureaucratic corporation. The strip is principally a Satire 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 The Artifact and were Demoted To Extras unless they could integrate themselves into the workplace setting.
Although the strip's portrayal of corporate life is very far on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, it accomplishes its satire with absurdist humor, including the presence of Funny Animals, Little Green Men, supernatural creatures and Odd Job Gods.
Was also made into a short-lived, but critically acclaimed animated show.
Can be found at the main website here.
"The VC are sick of BNB."
- Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: Used when when the engineers try to deceive the pointy-haired boss by making up lots of acronyms.
- Alliteration: 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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...")
- 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.
Dilbert: Take a look at my new invention: the "Dick Tracy" 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.
- 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.
- Author Avatar: Dogbert, when addressing the reader.
- Background Halo
- Bad Boss: The pointy-haired one
- Bald Women: Dilbert once met a woman like this. Also a case of My Brain Is Big.
- Banana Republic: Elbonia
- The Barnum: Dogbert.
- Beleaguered Assistant: You'd feel beleaguered too if you had a boss like that.
- Black Bead Eyes
- 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."
- 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.
- On Elbonian Airlines, "First Class," is where they don't intentionally fling you at something hard.
- The animated version simply uses really, really terrible airplanes.
- Cats Are Mean: Catbert
- The Chain of Harm: Seen in this Dilbert strip.
- Characterization Marches On: The Pointy-Haired Boss and (perhaps) the CEO
- 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.
- 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."
- Conservation of Competence
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Day at the Bizarro: One series of strips involved Dilbert's co-worker growing a beard out of his forehead, which caused him to get promoted to manager. When Alice tried to kill him by pushing him down a flight of stairs, he died, but demons infested his corpse and he came back to life. Alice then tried to stab him to death with Dilbert's pen... at which point the whole arc just kind of ended. Even within the (already strange) confines of the strip, this arc is a whole new level of strange.
- Alice killed the PHB in a recent arc (as of 2011), but to fill the power vacuum she ripped another PHB out of a parallel reality to serve as their PHB. Also classifies as Status Quo Is God.
- 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.
- Dismotivation: Wally
- The Ditz / Cloudcuckoolander: Ratbert
- Dress Code: Parodied, like every other office trope.
- 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.
- 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.
- Executive Meddling: A beneficial instance was when Adams wanted to feature Satan in the comic and the editor said no. Thus was borne Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light which Adams admits is a funnier concept.
- Less benign example: while the Cubicle Gestapo is an inherently funny concept, the minefield of figuring out how many Nazi references a newspaper comic can get away with makes their appearances more trouble than they're worth.
- Indeed, in several papers they were changed into the "Cubicle Police"
- Less benign example: while the Cubicle Gestapo is an inherently funny concept, the minefield of figuring out how many Nazi references a newspaper comic can get away with makes their appearances more trouble than they're worth.
- 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.
- Express Lane Limit:
Cashier: This looks like a lot more than ten items, ma'am.
- 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).
- Fantastic Racism: The Elbonian right-handed and left-handed supremacists.
- 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".
- Fisher Kingdom
- 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.
- Fourth Wall Shut-in Story: This was the kickoff for a Wizard of Oz parody.
- Funny Foreigner: Elbonians
- Geeky Turn On
- 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!
- Gosh Dang 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Improbable Hairstyle: Alice.
- Incompetence, Inc.
- Inhuman Resources
- 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!
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).
- "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.
- 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. To be fair, he's largely successful.
- Large Ham: Comp-U-Comp. "SIIIILENCE!"
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In this strip
PHB: We're not made of ink.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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. Overlaps with Fail O'Suckyname.
- 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?
- Also, Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services, has a name that is very nearly a reversal of CD-ROM.
- 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!
- Monkeys on a Typewriter: According to Dogbert, Dilbert's poem could be written by three monkeys in ten minutes.
- Motionless Makeover: Dogbert takes advantage of Dilbert being in a "game trance" and stacks dishes on his head.
- The Film of the Book: Dilbert: the Movie!
- Multi Boobage: This strip
- Mundane Utility: In an early strip, Dilbert invents an antigravity chemical, which is marketed as...uh...that is...look, just read it.
- Name's the Same: The title character was inadvertently named after a comic character from The Forties who would feature in US Air Force publications as a humorous example of 'How Not To Do It'. Adams asked for name suggestions from his friends, and the winner didn't realize he must have recalled the name from the earlier comic until after Dilbert had already become famous.
- 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.
- 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.
- Non-Human Sidekick
- 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.
- 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."
- One of Us: Dilbert is drawn by a Mensa member.
- 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.
- 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."
- Petting Zoo People: In one arc, the 'Curse of Dogbert' turned everyone who sent or received a chain letter into an anthropomorphic dog.
- 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 dumped his coffee grounds into it.
- Prehensile Tail: A monkey has an advantage over humans because of his tail being able to use a mouse.
- Professional Slacker: Wally.
- Punishment Box: The PHB once tried this as a management tactic. Dilbert just asked if "the Box" was bigger than his cubicle.
- Puss in Boots: Dogbert.
- Remix Comic: The website invites people to make Mashups of strips.
- Retconning the Wiki: In one strip, 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- To Top Gear in the 16th May 2010 strip, when the Pointy-Haired Boss introduces "software genius" Wolfgang (actually Wally):
Pointy-Haired Boss: Some say his talent is a genetic mutation. Others say that God speaks to him in UNIX. All we know for sure is that he glows, and he never needs to eat.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stop Helping Me!: 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.
- Sure Why Not: Catbert was initially just someone who tried to eat Ratbert. Adams then started getting fanmail for more 'Catbert'. He never actually named the cat; still, given the response and how his use of Theme Naming could lead to this, he kept the cat and gave him a perfect job. His reasoning being that if your entire fanbase spontaneously and unanimously names a character for you, you should probably keep him.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial:
PHB: 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.
- Talking Animal
- Take That: An early series of strips slammed Zippy the Pinhead with Dogbert's own comic, Pippy the Ziphead.
- 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 two 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!!
- 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[context?]
- Unusual Euphemism: "Oh, carp."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You Answered Your Own Question: During a sales presentation in this strip
- You Know What You Did: parodied in this strip.