…that is the question… that I am posing today.
Way back when I was at school, nerds were the really intelligent kids (not me!), who were excellent at Maths and Science in particular. They couldn’t throw, or kick, a ball, they shied away from crowds, cool kids, hockey sticks, pubs, clubs and bars, even their own shadow at times. Nerds were, well, nerdy!
Then along came this other word – Geek – it infiltrated to the UK from the ‘good ole US of A’. And we were confused, so this geek was like a nerd but had something to do with technology, both intelligent in academic ways, but stupid socially, neither had any dress sense (many wore spectacles) and you certainly did NOT want to get trapped with one who then regaled you with their favourite topic, no sir!
For older readers, the difference between nerds and geeks is purely a matter of lexical semantics – they’re both weird. For younger readers, there is a whole pile of difference , and don’t you dare call me a nerd when I’m a geek!!! And then they stomp off to read their comics (because, as we all know, nerds/geeks read comics, don’t they?)
So let us have a little stroll through the history, and meaning, of the world of Nerds and Geeks. Got your notebook and mismatched attire? Then let’s go…
A nerd is a person seen as overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills. Such a person may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, little known, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical, abstract, or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities. Additionally, many so-called nerds are described as being shy, quirky, pedantic, and unattractive, and may have difficulty participating in, or even following, sports.
Though originally derogatory, nerd is a stereotypical term, but as with other pejoratives, it has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.
The first documented appearance of the word nerd is as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss‘s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950), in which the narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too” for his imaginary zoo.The slang meaning of the term dates to the next year, 1951, when Newsweek magazine reported on its popular use as a synonym for drip or square in Detroit, Michigan. By the early 1960s, usage of the term had spread throughout the United States, and even as far as Scotland. At some point, the word took on connotations of bookishness and social ineptitude
The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit, with a general pejorative meaning of a “peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.
Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to refer to “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake”.
This word comes from English dialect geek or geck (meaning a “fool” or “freak“; from Middle Low German Geck). “Geck” is a standard term in modern German and means “fool” or “fop”.The root also survives in the Dutch and Afrikaans adjective gek (“crazy”), as well as some German dialects, and in the Alsatian word Gickeleshut (“jester‘s hat”; used during carnival). In 18th century Austria, Gecken were freaks on display in some circuses. In 19th century North America, the term geek referred to a performer in a geek show in a circus, traveling carnival or travelling funfair sideshows (see also freak show). The 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary included only the definition regarding geek shows. This variation of the term was used to comic effect in an episode of popular 1970s TV show Sanford & Son. Professional wrestling manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie recorded a song in the 1970s called “Pencil-Necked Geek”.
Hang on, let’s pause here – so nerds are shy – so fucking what!? Most shy people I know are also the most strong-minded individuals I have ever met. They read fantasy fiction? Co-o-o-l. And geeks are enthusiasts? Where would we be without people who are enthusiastic about something, anything? Aren’t creative types enthusiastic to the point of obsession? William Turner, Auguste Rodin, Frida Kahlo, Barbara Hepworth, H P Lovecraft, Prince!? They would never have produced the paintings, sculpture, books or music that they did, without having at least a hint of geekiness/nerdiness.
So what happened?
Lets see if we can identify the ‘accusers’ and the ‘supporters’…
1974: The Fonz, a character on an American TV show; Happy Days, referred to socially awkward kids interested in science and math as nerds. The world gave him a big thumbs up and nerds a big thumbs down. NB: this was a guy in his late twenties(at least!) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out with teen schoolkids!!! *J’accuse The Fonz.
1978: Eugene Felsnic, a character in Grease was shrill voice, had poor social skills, thick glasses, and was generally considered embarrassing. He was the butt of a lot of jokes. poo Eugene was just overly keen. *J’accuse the T-Birds, The Pink Ladies and Producers, Allan Carr and Robert Stigwood.
1984: The movie, Revenge of the Nerds was released, and amazingly,people delighted in a movie where the nerds get to win. The film does not actually portray nerds positively, but they were the stars! “We have news for the beautiful people. There’s a lot more of us then there are of you!” Nerd appreciation went up slightly. *Kudos to Director Jeff Kanew.
1985: Movie; Weird Science by John Hughes came out, (also Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Hughes humanized the nerds that audiences had made fun of before. Audiences were made to understand that nerds have feelings too. They were no longer the butt of jokes. Nerd appreciation was beginning to climb. *Kudos to Director John Hughes.
1991: Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, was a fairly accurate stereotype, and though an enjoyable character, he does not help the cause of geeks and nerds. Ever. Not sure if he was appreciated or jeered. *Nada.
1999: Star Wars: Episode I was released. And so began the biggest nerd growth in the history of mankind. Nerds were popping up all over the show; watching the films, talking about the films, buying merchandise that appeared in those comic shops that started popping up everywhere. (Being a cynic, I am apt to believe the supreme marketing of this franchise is what has created a cycle of movie-nerd-merchandise-tie ins-geek-movie-nerd ad infinitum.) However, the profile, appreciation/acceptance of nerds and geeks has risen tenfold. *Kudos to creator George Lucas.
2007: The Big Bang Theory, American TV show arrived. It has been and continues to be, a massive hit. It portrays nerds/geeks as being not only super intelligent but, know-it-alls’ who are indeed socially adept, who are terriﬁed of women, often pedantic and in one instance (Sheldon) possibly lean towards Asperger’s. What initially appear to be stereotypes, and to a degree they are, they also reflect what the vast majority have concerns with; friendship, work, and problems with both. The first nerds to get their very own show! Hurrah! *Kudos to writers, Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady, Maria Ferrari, Steven Molaro and the rest.
2010: It wasn’t enough anymore, to visit comic book shops, sit on the side-line and discuss girls who would never look at you, it was time to get physical – enter Kick-Ass, the movie! This was a nerd who was mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it anymore! This was the skinny, ‘little’ guy who no-one looked at, the guy who hung out with his two equally nerdy pals and spent too much time with comics – it is an homage to the comic superhero, stop just reading about it, and do something. Kick-Ass hailed the rise of a new nerd – Super-Hero-Nerd! *Kudos to writers/Director Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman.
Well there you have it. Or do we?
Before you go, can you see anything missing from this picture so far?????
Notice an absence from the list???
Still not got it??
I’ll give you a clue – what is the gender of the writer of this blog?!
Where are the women?! It is an odd thing, females have been noticeably missing from the nerd/geek history. If you type female nerd into your search engine, you will more than likely get an image of a ‘sexy’ woman in tight shirt and spectacles that she probably doesn’t wear in her ‘real’ life!
1995: Hackers starred Angelina Jolie as a young hacker alongside Jonny Lee Miller. It wasn’t a terrifically good film and did little for nerds and geeks, even though their IT skills were at the cutting edge! *Nada.
1996: Saw Matilda making a hit, (with children and some parents). Matilda was not only very well read and intelligent, she got the better of her bullying teacher; Miss Trunchbull. It was cool in the playground for a short while, then the boys came back with their footballs and sense of entitlement. *Kudos to Roald Dahl (and Director Danny De Vito for trying.)
1997: J.K. Rowling brought us the best girl-nerd ever! Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, was published. Then it was made into a film! It was a HUGE success. She wrote 6 more! We got more films! Hermione Granger was the new hero of young women and girls right across the planet, she had to fight extreme prejudice from, not only classmates, but teachers. She is from a Muggle family, she is well-read, she is intelligent(more than any of the other characters), she is brave, she is loyal – she is the driving force behind Harry and Ron and without her, I believe, Lord Voldemort would have won!!
Girl nerds are just as cool as boy nerds, perhaps more so, as they have to work harder. In what way, I hear you ask? Well, if you’re a boy, and a nerd, it can still be a battle to get respect from people. If you’re a girl nerd, you not only have that battle, but another with the boy nerds, who are just like the rest of their species when it come to females!
To Be (a nerd), Or Not To Be (a nerd)…that was the question. Or are you a geek?
I have decided I am a mix of both. It needs a new word, I propose NEEK!