There was a recommendation of a new book, How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide in www.Goodreads.com followed by this next sentence:

“On the one hand, nobody wants to be a dick. On the other hand, dicks are everywhere! They cut in line, talk behind our backs, recline into our seats, and even have the power to morph into trolls online. Their powers are impressive, but with a little foresight and thoughtfulness, we can take a stand against dickishness today.

I know the phrase, “every (any) Tom, Dick and Harry” meaning every (any) body, but I’m not sure whether “’dick’ whom nobody wants to be” means, a ‘mediocre,” “unimportant,” “irrelevant to me,” or “officious and impertinent” person, or simply “nuisance.”

Cambridge English Dictionary carries definition of 'dick' only as a man’s genital.

Oxford English Dictionary defines it as 1. (British) a stupid or contemptible man. 2 [mass noun, with negative] (North American) anything at all, beside a man’s genital.

What does “dick” exactly mean when you say “Not to be a dick, but—”?

Are “dickish” and “dickishness” accepted derivatives from “dick,” though I can’t find them in any of Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam Webster English dictionaries?

What would you apply to in paraphrasing “dickishness” in a single word?


2 Answers 2


The word is commonly used vulgar slang, at least here in America. The derivation is indeed from the usage of dick to mean "penis," and means an arrogant jerk who is horrible to the people around him (the dick is almost exclusively male, probably because of the derivation) either on purpose or because of a self-centered obliviousness.

The word sometimes has a grudging undertone of reluctant admiration for just how horrible the person is.

Dickishness is a playful formation from dick to name the state of being a person such as described above. It would never be used in a formal setting, but it would be commonly understood.

  • 2
    Common in the UK as well. dickhead is also common, with the same meaning, if a little more vulgar.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 22:13
  • @DanSheppard - Yeah, "dickhead" is not unknown in the US, and also somewhat more vulgar than "dick".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 1:21

It depends on what you mean by "accepted"—everyone would understand what you mean, but "dickishness" is still a nonce word: a word that has been invented in order to render some concept more easily or efficiently communicable. (In this case, it's a perjoration plus an abstraction: dick becomes an insult, then the insult becomes a quality or an abstract quantity.) It's not in the dictionaries, and it's not appropriate for formal occasions—and not even because of its derivation. Otherwise, I'd feel free to use it, and I'm a Harvard PhD. My dad uses it sometimes.

  • 2
    Maybe because I'm not a Harvard PhD, I don't understand what this has to do with using or not using dickishness: "Otherwise, I'd feel free to use it, and I'm a Harvard PhD." Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 8:24
  • @medica Her point was to show how the word might not be very formal, as both PhDs and people from Harvard are ostensibly expected to use formal language, but even so, in informal circumstances, she might use it. What I don't get is why she's seemingly disparaging her dad on a public forum.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 15:13

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