Word of the Week! Phildickian

This one was nominated by reader Leslie Rose III. It’s time, as the fiction of Philip K. Dick really describes the times we endure.

I have featured a post about J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence and the adjective it generated, as well as other others who have earned that status. Dick merits it; I simply wish “Dickensian” were not already taken, as “Phildickian” does not roll off the tongue. Nor does it seem common enough to appear in dictionaries yet.

That said, let’s look at a blog post with Cory Doctorow’s fine reasoning for why our world is “best viewed through the lens of Philip  K Dick (whose books repeatedly depicted a world of constructed realities, whose true nature was obscured by totalitarians, conspiracies, and broken computers) and not Orwell or Huxley, whose computers and systems worked altogether too well to be good parallels for today’s janky dystopia.”

Janky? That needs a post, too, but Doctorow’s reasoning seems spot-on perfect. Why, in the midst of a pandemic, do I get a little paper card from the CDC, something easily forged by paranoid and selfish anti-vaxxer types, proving that I have been inoculated and boosted? Why do that, when the government was perfectly capable of printing a DEBIT card, complete with chip and magnetic stripe, for a handout from a former President’s incompetent administration? Why do some patently insane conspiracy theories, left and right, persist?


Because we live in a janky dystopia where things are not as them seem. Not the other three types of dystopias outlined in this brilliant piece at Medium. Things break, or we get lied to. Bait-and-switch games abound, even from those we grant great power.

Dick’s fiction hit its apex in the equally janky and run-down 1970s, but today things rhyme with that decade, though we have more dangerous cartoon-figures with totalitarian intent, who may or may not be fully human, waiting in the wings.

Dick was not always the best stylist, since he cranked out prose by the boatload under the influence of paranoia and drug abuse, but his best work should endure. Riley Scott did a good job with the Director’s Cut of the original Blade Runner of capturing Dick’s world. That should help the fiction stay in print.

And perhaps we’ll get a better adjective, if not a less Phildickian world. The irony of this post running on the day we commemorate a great man, Martin Luther King Jr., could not be more revealing of the gap between where we should be and where, sadly, we are.

Be sure to send me words and metaphors of use in academic settings, or merely intriguing, to me by leaving a comment below or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Cover image from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth.


3 thoughts on “Word of the Week! Phildickian”

  1. I never knew there was such a word, but it certainly makes sense to have a word describing Dick’s particular world view.

    Many people who’ve never read Dick have encountered his work through the many adaptations it has inspired. In addition to Blade Runner, there are films such as Minority Report and Total Recall and TV adaptations such as The Man in the High Castle. Probably less well known is the Amazon / BBC series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, which was uneven (as anthology series often are), but had some very good episodes. And series such as Black Mirror, while not actually adapted from Dick, are certainly phildickian.

    I’d contend (and it sounds like you might agree) that Dick’s strength was as an idea generator, more than as a writer, so perhaps it makes sense that his work may live on primarily through adaptation.

  2. Ted, I’d claim that a few of his works, namely Ubik. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Doctor Bloodmoney, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Edritch stand up well as novels. But the poor man was haunted by debt, by paranoia, by his drug habits. It’s a miracle he produced the work he did.

  3. The only one of those I’ve read is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and I agree about that. I’ve read two or three other novels of his (Man in the High Castle and some others I can’t remember), for which I thought the ideas were much better than the execution. I’ve enjoyed his short stories on the whole more than his novels.

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