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Friday, 29 April 2011


The truth of the Internet Age is that it has essentially enabled ALL of us to become geek/nerds of something in minutes. We spend more time learning about arcane matter than ever simply because we can.

The problem is that we end up missing on what made our subjects of obsession obsessive at all: rarity. In the 60s, being a film buff essentially meant 1) living in Paris and 2) going to the Cinémathèque every other day.

A classic essay on post-rarity geekhood/nerdiness:

I take joy from hearing that the esteemed editor of TOP is a Miata nerd, since I had red '94 for three years. I guess that means I was a Miata nerd who aspired to be, and became, a Miata geek. I'm neither now, but I still have fond memories of that car and smile a bit to myself when I see one in the streets.

I guess I'm a geek, but I could hang with the nerds.

I know the two terms under discussion are mildly pejorative

Whatever! I'm both, and proud of it.

Dear Mike,


In the cultures I run in, "geek" is not even mildly pejorative. Just as the counterculture rebranded "freak" almost half a century ago (woooooaa, ancient history, man), the hacker culture (which grew directly out of the counter-) rebranded geek. And we regularly talk about 'geeking out' on some subject of another. In fact, I think DDB and I used that phrase at least once when we were out photographing yesterday.

I've run into (relatively) young geeks who don't even know where the word came from. Some of them have been rather shocked to find out.

pax / Ctein (who flies his geek flag proudly)

Quite possibly the greatest insult I've ever witnessed was a mod ending an online discussion that had devolved into a slapfight about technical minutiae by posting "Go take some pictures, you bunch of gormless nerds."

Your story of the teen reminded me of a classic Penny Arcade strip regarding anonymity and the web:


We forgot "Wonk". So would it be wonkish to discuss the various terms? Also seems like the diagram has an orientation dependency ie who you are might affect how you organize the diagram.

Hmmm; hadn't run into that diagram before, but it has its points. However, it doesn't terribly well support the useful distinction you quote (I don't think usage in my circles precisely follows either, but I think "geek" is socially superior to "nerd", which matches doing vs. talking).

Personally, I embrace the power of 'and'. I can be a photo nerd AND a photo geek. (Have so far made two "microplanet" mappings and edited a circular fisheye image from a photo expedition with Ctein to the Taylors Falls / St. Croix Falls area yesterday, so I think I can claim to like to do it.)

And so it would seem that it's possible to be a nerd on many, many subjects, but a geek on very few.

LibraryThing did a similar comparison using the tag data (>75 million tags) on books:

I suppose it is no great surprise that non-conformist Nerds should fail to fulfill the first black condition, but since when did cyan and magenta make lilac?

I don't have a dog in this- I just remember Milhouse explaining to some considerably larger character in the Simpsons that he was just a nerd- not a smart nerd.

Most talks about oysters come from those who never tested them.

Just saw a T shirt that said "Talk nerdy to me". Among camera collectors don't they call the nerdy types 'rivit counters'?

I recall when the term "nerd" first started back in the late 1960s at MIT. Then, it simply was a mildly self-deprecating term for young men who were highly proficient scientifically but socially awkward. Geek was unheard of back then.

Mike, I think anyone who can claim "When I worked at the model railroad magazine..." can also proudly call themselves geek AND nerd.

I think Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" is definitely right in the center of that little triangle on the Venn diagram.

I like this one better: http://xkcd.com/747/

You'd think, but actually I'm not a model railroader--a deficiency which led to my demise in that job. So I can't qualify as a model railroad geek.


Both the nerd and the geek know who they are. The dork on the other hand doen't have a clue.

Echoing MHV's comment about living in an age of post-rarity, an excellent article about what it means for music & film buffs:


Nerd, geek, twit these are all subjective adjectives to describe those characteristics of those 'round us,
none of which we understand, nor care to.

Perhaps we are by dint of our surroundings,and the people we
encounter in person or by the
electronic wired world now
which we find ourselves
an often unwillingly participant.

This reminds me of a clever piece of writing by Umberto Eco in his novel 'Foucault's Pendulum' where one of his characters claims that everyone fits into one of four categories: cretins, fools, morons and lunatics. As you read the descriptions of each you find yourself analysing which one applies to you. (Chapter 10 if you want to read it)

Iain writes:
"This reminds me of a clever piece of writing by Umberto Eco in his novel 'Foucault's Pendulum' where one of his characters claims that everyone fits into one of four categories: cretins, fools, morons and lunatics."

Eco was placing a sly geeky reference to a famous quip by Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet, who disparaged his alma mater, the ancient university town of Goettingen, thus:
"The inhabitants of Goettingen are divided into Students, Professors, Philistines, and Cattle — four classes, however, that are anything but mutually exclusive. The Cattle are by far the most numerous."

And so back to the Venn diagram.

My wife and I are always calling each other nerd & fool. We say it out in public down shopping aisle and across bar room floors exactly how Mr T would say it.

My wife in supermarket

Go get some apples fool!

"Shut up nerd!"

My wife

"I pity the nerd that married this fool!"

I geek you! No, wait, that's grok. Sorry.

I think the main difference is that geeks know when it's socially required for them to shut up. Nerds NEVER shut up.
Exempli gratia: Me, I'm a photo geek. I'll seldom bring up anything photography-related when I'm out having a nice beer with my mates. One of those mates, however, is a complete mobile (as in phones, tablets, what have you) nerd. He, on the other hand, will not bloody well shut up about the latest phone he's testing unless we threaten him with physical violence.

@Steve J
While the pun might have been intentional (in which case, "bazinga"), I believe you meant etymology rather than the study of bugs.

That was the funniest part. [g]



Well Mike kindly corrected my other spelling mistakes, but this one he missed probably because it was quite amusing.

Guess I'll have to go count my toes.

I don't think the etymology for "dork" is correct. Think more of the short form of Richard.

One word that seems to have gone out of fashion is "twerp". It appears to come from an actual person named T. W. Earp, who JRR Tolkein called "the original twerp" in one of his letters. As a Tolkien nerd, I should be able to quote *which* letter, but my reference is at home!

Of course, ever since Bill Gates, nerdhood has become a goal...

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