Nerds Versus Geeks? Does the Debate Matter to Anyone Besides Us?

Posted on April 15, 2012. Filed under: .. |

It occurred to me that my readers may wonder why I’m so eager to exercise my inner-nerd through my blog posts. Some readers might liken my posts to mere intellectual showboating, while others are still trying to comprehend the whole “nerd” persona I’m espousing.

And, as always, there’s the question of what differentiate a nerd from a geek, and why such a distinction even matters. Such is the topic of today’s post.

For entertainment’s sake, I’ll wax poetic about each group and the differences between them. Webster offers definitions for each term. ‘Nerd’ has two definitions, although it appears as though they’re meant to run together to form a single description.

Nerd:

1: An unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; Especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits (e.g., computer nerds).

Unstylish? Usually, thanks to the nerd’s lack of interest in fashion. Unattractive? HARDLY! 😀 Socially inept? Nerds are definitely prone to social ineptitude and for multiple reasons. Most of a nerd’s time is spent inside their head, as we tend think incessantly about any and everything. This focus on the inner-self can cause nerds to be caught off guard by various social situations. If someone asks me a question while I happen to be contemplating the nature of black holes, chances are I’ll respond with a blank stare before muttering a few words and finding my escape route. Intellectuals don’t like to be caught unawares, despite being the very people to whom this happens the most often. However, we’re smart and can therefore come up with rather quick solutions to these instantaneous situations. “What did you say? I wasn’t paying attention,” is my go-to response, though it rubs some people the wrong way; so much for honesty! Another trick is to momentarily defer attention away from the impending social situation and toward anything that can buy a few extra seconds of time. “Look! A rainbow? What? We’re inside? It must be my glasses.” This extra time is gold and should be used to either devise an escape plan or come up with a few witty remarks so that you actually contribute to the conversation, per social norms.

The one word that my attention keeps coming back to is ‘slavishly.’ The word’s definition is pretty much what you’d guess it to be: resembling a slave. I don’t think nerds are slaves to their intellectual pursuits, but instead choose these pursuits because they enjoy them. Maybe I’ll write to Merriam Webster and let them know that nerds need to be liberated, at least according to their dictionary.

So, what about geeks? This time, Merriam Webster isn’t so kind with their definitions.

Geek:

1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake

2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked

3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>

I wonder if the dictionary’s writers were equally confused over the nerd vs. geek debate, as each definition includes the example, “computer X.” As for the first definition, that’s completely new to me and I’m glad it’s not listed under ‘nerd,’ lest I begin biting off chicken heads.

By comparing the relevant parts of these definitions, we can get down to the nitty-gritty.

NERD: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.

GEEK: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity.

Overall, the general consensus (according to Merriam Webster and my experience IRL) is that nerds are interested in academic and brainy subjects in general, while geeks are interested in learning everything there is to know regarding a certain field… or television show, like Star Trek? (I guess this makes me a Battlestar Galatica geek!) Nerds have a broader range of intellectual interests, while geeks tend to focus on a few things at which they’re very skilled.

Now that we’ve broken down the conventional definitions for the terms, is there any significant difference between nerds and geeks? Some people might claim that any “difference” is really just a matter of semantics, concluding that the entire debate is meaningless (I tend to agree…) However, should you ask a group of geeks or nerds this question, you’re sure to induce some warped West Side Story dance routine between these rival gangs.

Yes, I said rival gangs. One can always pretend to be a hardcore, finger-snapping, foot-kicking broadway star in the privacy of their own home. Hell, I know I do.

I can speak for nerds when I say that most (well, at least those who have escaped high school) are proud to be called nerds. I don’t know how geeks feel about the term; they’re probably just as proud of it as nerds are of their label.

And that, dear readers, is the most important and likely the only significant difference between the two groups. Nerds will argue over what constitutes a “nerd,” geeks will argue about what defines a “geek,” and noone else will ever give a damn.

Let me end by addressing my feelings about this debate with an illustration, courtesy of XKCD.com. This manages to effectively capture my overall opinion on the issue AND it has a Venn diagram, to boot! (That’s the logician in me talking, btw.)

This pretty much sums up the debate.

From XKCD! The alt-text from the site: "The definitions I grew up with were that a geek is someone unusually into something (so you could have computer geeks, baseball geeks, theater geeks, etc) and nerds are (often awkward) science, math, or computer geeks. But definitions vary."

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15 Responses to “Nerds Versus Geeks? Does the Debate Matter to Anyone Besides Us?”

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