If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.
This is a topic that merited two places on the list, but is probably best handled in one post.
To start with, some of you would probably like some definitions. Let’s start with a comic from the geeky and nerdy, depending on the day, xkcd. What those of you unfamiliar with the comic ought to know is that the alt text (when you mouseover a picture, that’s the text that might pop up and is traditionally used as a way to describe the graphic to those with visual limitations) is often part of the punchline. Which is why I’ll be noting the punchline (the alt text) for you.
Alt Text: “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.”
If you’d like something with more maths or even just more words, this blog post might make you happy. It begins offering these definitions:
In my mind, “geek” and “nerd” are related, but capture different dimensions of an intense dedication to a subject:
- geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
- nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.
As you can see, the two people’s definitions are similar but not exactly the same. And the line between geek and nerd can get fuzzy. For me, I’d probably say it’s something like geeks are motivated by love of a thing or topic (which might lead to wanting knowledge about it but isn’t the same as being motivated by love of knowledge), whilst nerds are motivated by love of knowledge (and, in my head, that’s generally knowledge about academic or technical topics—whereas geeks can be about pop cultural things—and particularly even the dry bits). For instance, let’s take two people who are into space. If the person’s main skew is looking at beautiful photos and that scratches their itch, I’d call them a geek. If their thirsty brain wants to collect data and terms and they thrive on dry and technical bits, I’d call them a nerd. (I’d say I used to be equally both a nerd and geek for space, but I’m now mainly a geek for it.) In general, I think you’d need to be a nerd for something in order to be a scientist or something on that level for whatever the topic is.
Again, that’s just how I see it.
If you don’t get the difference, it’s okay. You can probably stick with me for the rest anyway. With one more note: you can be both a nerd and a geek. I hope it’s obvious by reading those definitions that neither excludes the other. And, yes, I’m quite pleased to have worn both labels. And, no, I’m not interested in arguing with you if you don’t agree with how the labels are defined. You just rock the ones that you believe apply to you and know that nothing I write is meant to take away from that.
When I was a smart kid at school, it was clear that “nerd” was a pejorative to most people. It seems like, even today, this is one anyone but nerds kind of thinks isn’t a compliment. And even the nerds know this isn’t usually meant as a compliment. But, to my mind, “nerd” means smart and focused on topics that have improved and can continue to improve our place as humans. I’m pretty sure that most scientists will agree that they are nerds. Especially when they see that I deliver that label with a loving smile. As some examples… I happily pin that label on the me who devoured mathematics (I asked for extra puzzles to take home and do for fun) or every book in the library on mythology or who fell in love with coding at the tender age of 8.
Geeks, on the other hand, have seen their reputations improve over the last few years. Now, technically, that has had as much to do with nerds as with geeks (if you buy into the same definitions that I do). We became a more tech-oriented society, with even grandparents online and even the boys from school who hassled me for being a geek playing video games. In fact, it is so clearly the age of the geek that the term has ceased to be used only in nerdy geek circles. It’s not just scifi lovers or computer programmers calling themselves geeks; it’s also now being used in phrases like “sports geek” or “cooking geek” or “any other sort of thing you might love a wholewholewhole lot geek.” Whilst I’ve worked on not having Too Much Stuff and, therefore, don’t have an impressive memento collection, I’ve got the love for quite a list of things, most of which fall into the scifi realms. Remember that year I re-watched all of Star Trek in what would have been chronological order in that universe? Oh, or the year I re-watched all 50 years of Doctor Who and its spinoffs (yes, even all of the K9 spinoff…that’s love…). Or the days given regularly to Star Wars or Lord of the Rings marathons? Y’know, just as an example…
But, all that said, I’m not going to fuss too much if you don’t know the difference, because even geeks and nerds don’t use those terms in the ways I might. And I’m not at all worried. It’s just two different ways of saying that there’s stuff I love. And I refused to be ashamed of loving things (or of being smart, which is usually rolled in with the nerd bit).
Instead of fighting about definitions, tell me the stuff for which you’re a geek or a nerd! Because why focus on the hate when we can wallow in the love? Yay!
Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).