Is “Dystopic” a Word?
When in a recent post I referred to “Orwell’s dystopic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four,” a reader from the Czech Republic asked when the adjective dystopic should be used instead of dystopian.
After referring to my usual authorities and giving the matter some thought, my answer is: “never.”
That’s not to say that the form dystopic isn’t to be heard and seen. I think my use of it in the article may stem from frequent reading of film criticism. For example:
The L.A. of Ridley Scott’s film was a dreary, dark, dystopic nightmare set in 2019.—Laist, Los Angeles website.
Best dystopic/post-apocalyptic films ever made—IMDb (InternetMovieDataBase) headline.
The movie [Wall-E] represents a dystopic world view.—Global Cinema.
Insurgent review—well-oiled dystopic action—headline over review of Divergent in The Guardian (UK).
The OED does not have an entry for dystopic, although it does have one for utopic.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged does not have an entry for either dystopic or utopic, although the entry for dystopia (“malposition of an anatomical part”) in the M-W medical dictionary gives dystopic as the adjective form.
The first appearance of dystopic on the Ngram Viewer is in 1903. Dystopic shows a steady rise from 1988 to 1999, before leveling off, still way below dystopian in frequency.
Some sites use dystopic consistently; others switch between dystopic and dystopian in the same article. Still others, like PopMatters, have some articles that use dystopic throughout and others that stick to dystopian as the only adjective form.
Bottom line: Dystopic is a word in the sense that people do use it, but the preferred adjective form for dystopia in the sense of a really bad place is dystopian.
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