nerd vs geek: where do you fall?



First off, I’d like to thank the people at Blaze Publishing for giving me the opportunity to continue a discussion Mara began last Saturday. It’s a topic I find particularly interesting and always good for inciting lively conversation, so I kind of hijacked Mara’s nerd vs fangirl: defining the flail post and they rewarded me by asking if I’d mind dropping by today and continuing the dialog.

My answer…duh!

So, something we thought was worth exploring further was how one classification suddenly became two, and how there are still distinctions if you look. What makes a nerd a nerd? A geek a geek? And where does a dork fit into the scheme of things? Which category does a Fangirl fall into, and why are these titles suddenly interchangeable in today’s nerd cool social media driven society?

Before we help you decide which category you belong in, it would help if we defined what we are talking about. The origin of each is a good starting point.

I bet you didn’t know that the word “nerd” first was used by Dr. Seuss? It was used in a line from the book If I Ran the Zoo that read, “A merkle, a nerd, and a seersucker too!” Somewhere along the way that innocuous word became associated with the concept of an irritating, unattractive person who may be brilliant, but chooses to focus on non-social pursuits. He /she was typically a studious intellectual, “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.

As far as “geek” goes, when traveling carnivals were popular in the early 1900’s, there was a performer called the “geek.” His job was to perform bizarre and disgusting acts for the amusement of the locals. Notably, this included biting the heads off live chickens. The slang term at first evolved into describing eccentric or non-mainstream people, but then typically became associated with experts, enthusiast, or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit. That morphed into meaning a “peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.

Maybe this illustration can help clarify things.

nerd-dork-geek-venn-diagramHave a better understanding now? Think you know which classification bests describes you? Let’s muddy the water a bit…shall we?

Let’s use Mara for an example. She tells us that Stargate was her first fandom and that spread into lots of other things. Definitely a geek! But what if Stargate…for whatever reason…turned out to be her one and only obsession? No other movies, no books, no video games, nada. Just Stargate. Would she still be considered a geek, or just a seriously obsessed fan?

What about you? Well, just the fact that you’re reading a publishing house blog pretty much seals your fate. I guess you could be a nerd who is simply here for intellectual reasons *cough*, but it’s more likely you’re a geek. But have you ever been mistakenly called a nerd? How did the two words (mistakenly) become interchangeable? Simple, geeks and nerds are related. They both capture different dimensions of an intense dedication. Many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).

It has been said that it is easier to befriend a nerd than a geek, but a geek would probably be a more interesting person. That might be true, but I still have room in my life for both. What about you?