Geeks, Nerds and Wizards

Sometimes, I wonder if it isn’t all just godawful semantics and hairsplitting.

A Diagram Created By A Geek

Let’s look at various meanings of the words geek and nerd. I apologise for the lack of serious academic reference, but alas real dictionary websites require expensive subscriptions.

Merriam-Webster:

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>
probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German

First Known Use: 1914
Nerd
: an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds>
perhaps from nerd, a creature in the children’s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950) by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)

First Known Use: 1951
The Scrabble Dictionary

GEEKED

filled with enthusiasm

GEEKDOM  (GEEKDOMS)

the world of geeks

GEEKY , (GEEKIER/GEEKIEST)

socially awkward or unappealing

GEEK  , (GEEKS)

a single-minded enthusiast or expert

NERDY [9 pts] , (NERDIER/NERDIEST)

socially inept

NERD [5 pts] , (NERDS)

a socially inept person — NERDISH

Urban Dictionary

I include these because it offers an interesting social perspective on geeks vs nerds.I have altered spelling to protect the sensibilities of English wizards.

1: The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult

The geeky kid now owns a million dollar software company

2: Not to be confused with Nerd. A geek does not have to be smart, a Geek is someone who is generally not athletic, and enjoys Video Games; Comic Books; being on the internet, and etc.

Only a geek would waste their time on the internet, defining geek on urbandictionary.com

3: The term “geek” originally referred to the carnival performers whose act consisted of biting the heads off chickens and eating glass. Over time it came to be applied to anyone who got paid to do work considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society.
The term now enjoys a special status within the technical community, particularly among particularly knowledgable computer programmers. To identify oneself as a “geek” indicates a recognition that most people still consider programming computers to be a bizarre act, along with a certain fierce satisfaction in being very good at their inglorious profession.

That most software geeks now easily earn twice as much as the average laborer just sweetens their defiant embrace of the term.

Note: Unlike the word “nerd,” which is always pejorative, “geek” often carries a positive connotation when used by one of the group. The use of the term by outsiders is considered insulting.

“If you really need the right answer, check with Bob; he’s our resident alpha geek.”
4: One of four titles used to classify someone based on their technical and social skills. The other three titles are nerd, dork, and normie. The difference between the four titles can be easily shown in table form:

……………. Technical …… Social
Title ………… Skills ……… Skills
———- —————- ————
Normie ……… No …………. Yes
Geek ……….. Yes …………. Yes
Nerd ………… Yes …………. No
Dork ………… No ………….. No

Normie: A normal person. Blah.

Geek: An outwardly normal person who has taken the time to learn technical skills. Geeks have as normal a social life as anyone, and usually the only way to tell if someone is a geek is if they inform you of their skills.

Nerd: A socially awkward person who has learned technical skills due to the spare time they enjoy from being generally neglected. Their technical knowledge then leads normies to neglect them even further, leading to more development of their technical skills, more neglection, etc. This vicious cycle drives them even more into social oblivion.

Dork: A person who, although also socially awkward, doesn’t have the intelligence to fill the void with technical pursuits, like a nerd, and is forced to do mindless activities. Almost always alone. Usually with an XBox. Like playing Halo. All day. Every day. Not even understanding how the Xbox is making the pretty pictures on the screen. Very sad.

5. It doesn’t seem to refer to ‘computer programmers’ as much as it once did when computers weren’t so damn cool handy. Geeks are pretty much people who have a real understanding for a certain topic eg Films, music, cars. It’s usually that they are totally obsessed about the topic, or it’s just something they think alot on.
“Pete is such a film geek”
So, it looks like it very much matters who you’re asking. With geeks being so unbearably smug at times, and nerds making conversations circle the drain of cringe-inducing awkwardness, I hate the fact that I get labelled as both depending who’s talking to me. There’s no doubt that I have a vast knowledge of English, that I command a working vocabulary far beyond the reaches of most people because, let’s be honest, I haven’t always had friends. Does that make me geeky? Nerdy? I don’t know.
So, instead of joining those groups, I want to identify myself as something else. While ‘wizard’ has been given both depth and awkwardness due to Harry Potter and his deceptively three-dimensional cohorts, it still sounds cool. Except, and here’s where connotations are still so powerful, members of the KKK are also known as ‘wizards’. (I have no idea why. Research is not bringing up the root of this.)
It all comes down to whether one wants to join a group or not, and whether it isn’t just easier to admit that I cannot really control people’s prejudices or misunderstandings. Playing D&D might make me a nerd or a geek, but thankfully my engagement with martial arts shakes off this image:
WoW: For the Non-Achievers
Not all geeks are pasty-white, monitor-watching egoballs. Some are healthy, active people with a wide variety of interests. And not all nerds are anathema maranatha to social gatherings, and who enjoy a literary purview often unequalled by most. So maybe its not so bad to be labelled either. But, then again, its still a label, and no one really wants to be put in a little box on a shelf.
Perhaps this is why I like to trade under the moniker of ‘ninja’ or ‘admiral’, but its taking a really long time for my application to get through to the overlords for the exclusive title “Admiral of Johannesburg”. Maybe one day. For now, I would like to remind all geeks that being smarter than others does not mean its okay to mock people, and that its okay for nerds to go out into the sunshine. For when Sheldon said unto Penny, “Penny, I am a theoretical physicist, I have a working knowledge of everything in the universe,” did she not reply, “So, who’s Radiohead?”
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thomas says:

    The super terrible thing (its ultra super terrible and also worrisome oh my) is that martial arts do not un-nerd you. In fact, I am beginning to think that most martial artists of the younger generation are nerds/geeks/wizards.

    I guess boxing, muay thai, and similarly competitive styles disqualify you from nerd-dom. Maybe. Then again I know a geek (?) who does Muay Thai so…

    For me, I just stopped caring. Haters gonna hate, yo. It is the entirety of their description. Don’t let it bother you!

  2. Clea says:

    I used to be ashamed of being a geek. Not anymore hey. I do sometimes border on nerd but even that is ok. My friends are totally ok with sometimes-weird. 🙂

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