Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Geek vs. Nerd

The other day my wife asked me why I thought I was a geek when all along she thought I was a nerd. Since then I've been having an internal struggle of which one I am, so I decided to do some research on the topic. Below is the results of that research. First, let's compare the definitions of the two words.
Geek Definition (dictionary.com):
  1. a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.
  2. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)
  3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.
Nerd Definition:
  1. a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.
  2. an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer nerd.
Well, Geek definition 1 and 3 are not too complimentary and neither is the whole nerd definition. I'm kind of liking Geek definition part 2 though. Let's move on to encyclopedic knowledge of the two words.
Geek encyclopedic definition (wikipedia.org):
  1. A derogatory reference to a person obsessed with intellectual pursuits for their own sake, who is also deficient in most other human attributes so as to impair the person's operation within society.
  2. A person who is interested in technology, especially computing and new media. Geeks are adept with computers, and use the term hacker in a positive way, though not all are hackers themselves.
  3. A person who relates academic subjects to the real world outside of academic studies; for example, using multivariate calculus to determine how they should correctly optimize the dimensions of a pan to bake a cake.
  4. A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who passionately pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance.
  5. A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest. This definition is very broad but because many of these interests have mainstream endorsement and acceptance, the inclusion of some genres as "geeky" is heavily debated. Persons have been labeled as or chosen to identify as physics geeks, mathematics geeks, engineering geeks, sci-fi geeks, computer geeks, various science geeks, movie and film geeks (cinephile), comic book geeks, theatre geeks, history geeks, music geeks, art geeks, philosophy geeks, literature geeks, historical reenactment geeks and roleplay geeks.
  6. A more recent school of thought sees Nerd as being a derogatory phrase, whilst Geek is simply a description. It is taken to be someone who is an enthusiast, often in things outside of the mainstream spectrum, of note is that in this definition, there is no reference to being socially inept in the slightest.
Nerd encyclopedic definition:
  • Nerd is a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people.
Hm, interesting. One of the first things that I noticed is that the term Geek had a much richer and lengthy definition in wikipedia than Nerd did. Another thing that I noticed is that the encyclopedia definition for Nerd is like the dictionary definition, not particularly flattering. For the Geek definition, there is some negative connotations, but it's mostly all good (in my view anyway). Next I did a little digging into popular culture references to both terms.
Geek cultural references:
  • ThinkGeek.com (an online store for geeky stuff), Geek.com (a news/review site), geekcode.com (how to identify what kind of geek you are), The Geek Squad (a computer repair service now associated with Best Buy), GeekDad blog (a wired.com blog), Beauty and the Geek (a reality show)
Nerd cultural references:
  • Revenge of the Nerds (movie series), Nerdcore rap (music genre), White and Nerdy (Weird Al song), Slashdot.org (news for nerds), Nerdapalooza (nerd music festival), Nerd Herd (the Geek Squad of the TV show "Chuck")
I found more online stores under the geek term than the nerd term, but overall the searches turned up about the same number of references. Overall, I think that while Geek is turning out to be the more popular term choice, Nerd is also commonly used to describe the same person in the same way.

Before I began this research, I would have called myself a geek and balked somewhat at being called a nerd. At the time, to me, nerds were less socially accepted and more oblivious to the world around them than geeks were. As Richard Clarke said on the Colbert Report, "the difference between a geek and a nerd is that geeks get it done", a sentiment that I used to agree with After doing this research, I've found that people I would have considered geeks often refer to themselves as nerds instead. Now, the dictionary and encyclopedia were kinder to the term geek, but I think that is only because Geek has become a more recognized positive term than nerd has. In time, I feel, the term nerd will get the positive recognition that it deserves. Call me geek, call me nerd, either way, I will take it as a compliment. So, tell me what you think of all this? Are you a geek or a nerd? Which term do you prefer? Leave a comment! :)

Also, I've decided to include my favorite song of the moment in all future blog posts. Today the song is Indestructible by Disturbed.

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