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Geeks vs. Nerds 266

alanh writes "Last week, the News and Observer from the RTP area of NC had this article about the modern usage of the words "Geek" and "Nerd." " Typical piece about the ascendancy of "geeks" and "nerds". However, an interesting question: How do you view the difference between the two words? Or do they mean the same thing?
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Geeks vs. Nerds

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:22PM (#1511022)
    Nerds post second & think they're first...
  • Geeks and Nerds both are rapidly becoming "envogue" I mean look at News for nerds with hundred thousands of people visiting every day practically accepting that they are Nerds? And aren't Nerds the negitive definition?

    In movies the geeks and nerds always become the heros.. It started with the "Revenge of the Nerds" but even recently look at "Sleepy Hollow" wasn't Ichabod Crane some sort of Nerd...

    Hell I am proud to be NERD.. And I am going to stop rambling.
  • by BobW ( 118193 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:27PM (#1511025)
    "You can't have a geek without a "EE" (Electrical Engineering degree)
  • Geek is techo-chic, nerd is a word I prefer not to be heard :-)
  • Geeks are those kids who sorta know computer stuff generally, but won't ever get anywhere with it. They enjoy reading freshmeat solely to bring up the newest release of bind in their conversations with other geeks.

    The nerd, on the other hand, is less prone to conversing about the various what-came-out-todays. The interest is more professional, more focused on a purpose than a vague interest in the field. These are the guys who WRITE the software the geeks bring up in their little geek conversations.
  • IEEE Spectrum has a very nice section about interesting words that show up in the electrical engineering discipline. I remember reading an article discussing the etymology of the word "nerd" in a past issue, perhaps a couple of years ago. It suggested that the word probably originated at MIT and was a derivative of "knurd". Some people thought that the word was first coined as "knurd" since it was the reverse of "drunk", hence somebody who does not drink and party. I don't remember the details, but it was very entertaining and informative.

    Any ideas/knowledge about the origins of these two words "geek" and "nerd"??
    -- []
    A site for everything Bluetooth. Coming in January 2000.
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:28PM (#1511029) Homepage
    There's power in co-opting a negatively-tainted word and turning it into a positive word. Queer and Nigger are both words that are, in the appropriate peer group, used as power words.

    Unfortunately, I can't think of other examples. If you can, contribute some; it'll be interesting and maybe enlightening.

    My own resume uses "Professional Geek" as one heading. I take pride in the knowledge I have. I think all geeks should.

    First thing we need is a slogan as powerful and funny as the "We're queer, we're here and we're going shopping!" one...

    "We're geeks, we're..." ??
  • If nerd means drunk I prefer that, specially on weekends...
  • by ralos ( 118212 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:32PM (#1511031)
    Or a dweeb...
  • by Matt2000 ( 29624 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:34PM (#1511032) Homepage
    The most important differences are as follows:

    Geek: Thinks Milli Vanilli were pretty cool, scandal or not.
    Nerd: Did the spectral analysis on their voices to determine lip-synching well before the press announcement.

    Geek: Has 3 friends and trouble meeting new people.
    Nerd: Has 3 friends, but recyles through the use of role playing games and secret code names, bringing the total to 27.

    Geek: Will be at home come the new millenium.
    Nerd: Did the math to figure out the new millenium starts 2001, will be at home for both. []
  • IMHO the two words can be either an insult or a all depends on the context they're used, the tone in which said, etc.

    A compliment said in a derisive tone becomes an insult.

  • i think the sig said something like nerds are people who play with technology but geeks enjoy it. makes sense to me.
  • I've wondered this myself, and the conclusion I've come to is that a geek utilizes his skills in the real world; whether that be a trade, or the running of a Charity [].

    A nerd is someone who has yet to apply it to the real world. This is an acceptable status, especially if you're still in school.

    Or maybe I'm mistaking overanalysis with an imagination for reading into things... I think that's it. (No, I don't care that I just rendered my entire message senseless.)

  • Hmm, this must be a popular topic. This has come up before, but not quite in the same format. In these quickies [] there's a point-form chart [] discussing the differences between nerds, geeks, and twits.

  • I was thinking more along the lines of 'spaz'...

  • It also depends on the source, if it's from a fellow geek/nerd then it's like saying..."hey, what's up buddy?"

  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:38PM (#1511040) Homepage
    Strange. I've always placed "geek" as being better than "nerd"...

    In my interpretation:

    Geeks have broad general knowledge... just enough to be dangerous in almost anything, and enough to actually be quite competent in many areas.

    Nerds have deep, specific knowledge... enough to do anything that can be done in their specialty, and not particularly capable of applying that knowledge in other fields.

    Geeks obsess over everything techie.

    Nerds obsess over one thing to the exclusion of everything else.

    You can be a photography geek, an audio geek, a computer geek, a bike geek. A geek that's geeky about one thing is probably geeky about half a dozen completely unrelated other things.

    You can be a photography nerd, but it's probably more at the print development stage than the picking a lense stage. You can be an audio nerd, but it's probably more at the building the amp than creating the best sound environment level. You can be a computer nerd, but it's probably more at the writing a one-off specialized integrated database level than the system tweaking level.

    Is your interpretation different? Howso?
  • It also depends on the source, if it's from a fellow geek/nerd then it's like saying..."hey, what's up buddy?"

  • Some of my fellow students and I have decided that a Nerd is someone into computers ie. Programmers, Hackers. A Geek on the other hand is anyone who is social challenged in any way. Given this if you are a Nerd you can't be a Geek. The only reason for this definition is that the word Nerd seems to be a buzzword for ppl who are making it big in the computer world now. And afterall those of us who made this definition are CS majors :P Well I figured I would put in my two cents just because I didn't have anything better to do.
  • A nerd is someone who is fascinated by everything except how to dress.
  • by NateTG ( 93930 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:48PM (#1511047)
    Let's call the whole thing off.

    Honestly, what's in a name. Weather a moniker intimates respect or contempt has little to do with the word, and more to do with the associated stereotype. For example if you called someone discriminating today, it would probably be a negative comment. Fifty years ago it would have been a compliment. The deal is that people who are part of that steroetype are suddenly suceeding in buisness, and clearly are controling the means of communication for the next years.
    Like in the whole Littletown media debacle, or many others, terms like Nerd, Geek, Hacker, Cracker, Phreaker, or Goth are used by people who don't have any idea of what they are describing. Perhaps the issue here is that noone can agree on what a nerd is or weather nerd or geek is preferable is up in the air.
    To put this in perspective, I'm a foreigner in the us, and in my few years here I've observed the transition from handicapped to disabled as a "euphemism" for people with physical difficulties. Now, I suppose they were originally referred to as Cripples which is now considerd a relatively ugly word, but cripple and cripple are still acceptable.
    What is true however, is that the term is considered a perjorative by those who are distant from the issues, the ones that don't know who or what is going on. I don't think that Nigger originally referred to black er african american persons, but something along the lines of greedy, selfish, lazy, self-serving persons.
    The terms nerd and geek are used by the same sort of people who associated the littletown incident with goths, but instead of people who wear black, they usually refer to people who are intelectually inclined, and may have poor grooming habits.
    A geek, at least last time I thought about these things is a freaky person, someone who might bite heads off chickens, someone who sticks out of social situations in a big way. The term geek has been applied to people who aren't interested in computers, or smart enought o piss a whole in the snow if someone else helps them aim. Nerds on the other hand are people who are poorly groomed, socially simpleminded, and academically inclined.
    I suppose that all has changed a whole lot in the last five years. Any sort of choice that you make isn;t going to affect the people around you a whole lot, since they have either made a distinction themselves already, or have no idea what the difference is.
  • IMHO, they are now virtually synonymous. Perhaps one of the skills separating true geeks and nerds from the lesser-blessed members of society is the ability to use the right synonym at the right time.

    I, for one, am extremely thankful that I live in a time when I can be proud of who I am. The geeks have certainly inherited the Earth.
  • A geek is someone who works with computers.

    A nerd is someone who enjoys it.

  • by Duncan3 ( 10537 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:50PM (#1511051) Homepage

    A geek is someone that not only knows the theory and facts of a subject, but can USE them effectively to do something that has meaning in the real world.

    Geek is a term I call someone I respect in a given field. Nerd is generally a term for someone who is smart, but lacks that needed clue. Nerds are smart but annoying to geeks, but can be turned into geeks with enough self-improvement.

    Trivia buffs are nerds, Edison and Einstein were geeks.

    A college degree seems to have the highest chances of turning a nerd into a geek. This is especially true of those who live away from home and on campus, where socialization with people in other fields can take place - something nerds lack.

  • 'Geek' has become an almost positive term: smart, rich (silicon valley types), if on the dorky side. 'Nerd' is still almost wholly negative.

    I think the interesting question is, how did things turn out this way? It seems to be a very recent distinction: I remember posting (anonymously) on /. several years back a comment on the distinction between geek and nerd, and I remember that the difference in meaning was much less clear then than it is now.

    It seems that it could have gone either way: we needed a term with a positive connotation and a term with a negative connotation, so people just made an arbitrary choice.
  • "We're geeks, we're weak, let's get hacking"? Sorry, unfair stereotype there, and it brings back the whole (cr|h)acker debate.
  • Rob, do I feel a poll coming out of this?
  • I think both terms have gotten old. Stereotypes have clouded everything in the past. You know, the standard suspenders with collared shirt equipped with a calculator in the left pocket. What I'm trying to get at is that some of us (especially the younger /. users) are techinically social rejects indeed, but we lack the classical aspects of the the "geek" during the 60's, 70's or even 80's time period. The existance of intelligent life is not determined by the way you dress anymore. I personally conform to the established conformity protocol at our school yet I am still filed out from everyone and labelled on the forehead. High-pitched voices, severe acne, crackling voices aren't in a checklist that classifies you as a high school geek. It's the people you choose to associate with, what you discuss at lunchtime and what people perceive your intellect to be like.

    My school (I just turned 16) has a severe lack of competent individuals. We witness alot of issues that we smirk at like the submission propaganda posted around our school, administrators telling us to pick up our garbage even though we weren't finished eating our food and if any geek were to show violent behavior, it would be grounds for mental probing. Okay i'm getting off-topic, but what I'm trying to add here is that, if you really want to call the new brand of intellectuals geeks then I suppose the end result would be the mutatation of the word "geek" or "nerd."

    A decade ago I bet you could tell a geek from a non-geek just by looking at the individual, its not so apparent anymore.

  • by dixon ( 34495 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:57PM (#1511059)
    nerd n.

    1. [mainstream slang] Pejorative applied to anyone with an above-average IQ and
    few gifts at small talk and ordinary social rituals. 2. [jargon] Term of praise applied
    (in conscious ironic reference to sense 1) to someone who knows what's really
    important and interesting and doesn't care to be distracted by trivial chatter and silly
    status games. Compare the two senses of computer geek.

    The word itself appears to derive from the lines "And then, just to show them, I'll
    sail to Ka-Troo / And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, / A Nerkle, a
    Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!" in the Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Zoo" (1950).
    (The spellings `nurd' and `gnurd' also used to be current at MIT.) How it developed
    its mainstream meaning is unclear, but sense 1 seems to have entered mass culture
    in the early 1970s (there are reports that in the mid-1960s it meant roughly
    "annoying misfit" without the connotation of intelligence).

    An IEEE Spectrum article (4/95, page 16) once derived `nerd' in its variant form
    `knurd' from the word `drunk' backwards, but this bears all the hallmarks of a
    bogus folk etymology.

    Hackers developed sense 2 in self-defense perhaps ten years later, and some actually
    wear "Nerd Pride" buttons, only half as a joke. At MIT one can find not only
    buttons but (what else?) pocket protectors bearing the slogan and the MIT seal.

    computer geek n.

    1. One who eats (computer) bugs for a living. One who fulfills all the dreariest
    negative stereotypes about hackers: an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced
    monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. Cannot be used by outsiders
    without implied insult to all hackers; compare black-on-black vs. white-on-black
    usage of `nigger'. A computer geek may be either a fundamentally clueless
    individual or a proto-hacker in larval stage. Also called `turbo nerd', `turbo geek'.
    See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee, terminal junkie,
    spod, weenie. 2. Some self-described computer geeks use this term in a positive
    sense and protest sense 1 (this seems to have been a post-1990 development). For
    one such argument, see See also geek
  • This topic is so controversial I'm surprised there's not a poll to go with it.

    In fact, I think that there should be a poll, as all good geeks/nerds know that the only way to prove their point of view is right is to win in a slashdot poll. As Homer said, "The winner will be showered with gifts, and the loser will be booed until my throat is sore."

    I'm giving it a day before the time-honoured "Which do you prefer, geek or nerd?" poll comes up... anyone care to see if they can pick it more accurately? :)
  • by mouseman ( 54425 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @09:57PM (#1511061) Homepage
    Absolutely. The term is "reclaiming" words of abuse. It's a form of verbal judo. Take the words that your enemies use against you and make them work for you instead. The gay community is masterful at that. They didn't just reclaim queer, but also faggot and dyke. Those words don't seem to have the power to burn that they once had. I don't think the same is true for ethnic slurs. N-----r is still a nasty word, IMO.
  • I agree with this article for the most part.

    When Nerd is mentioned, I keep thinking of the guys that are dressed in "Revenge of the Nerds". The horn rim glasses, collared shirt, pocket protector and suspenders to complete the picture. Nerds tend to be people that haven't established themselves - positively that is- in social class. As far as geeks goes, the people who do call themselves "geeks" tend to be a little more in sync with society more so than nerds. If you notice, the ones who are quite computer literate and with the groove of style seem prefer geek over nerd.

    But both classes have similarities, such as intrests in computers, but nerds just tend to be obsessed with technology like a hobby and you don't really see them going anywhere with it. It fits well with "News for Nerds" doesn't it? We've got the news, we're interested in this sort of stuff, but for most of us, this stuff is like a hobby.

    The geeks have now inherited the earth and have all the jobs while then erds are still down in the basement and tinkering with their computers. (Geeks seem prefer to be having fun, socializing and making money.)

  • I just commented to a friend (Hi Chad!) a couple of days ago that /. has to change their slogan, because I don't feel like a nerd. As many people've said (and the article said), nerd has a more negative connotation associated with it. I certainly think of the typical glasses-with-tape-wearing, pocket-protecting, slide-ruling, socially-inepting, pizza-facing guy when I think of nerd.

    A geek, on the other hand, knows what they're doing, can carry on a conversation outside of computers, and knows what the best beer in town is (Hermann's, yeah!).

    My non-computer friends keep trying to insult me by calling me a geek. I always thank them. If they start calling me a nerd, however...
  • I just know some AC is going to come along and ask whether I meant "Nastier", "Nebular", "Nuclear" or "Neither". Ok, ok, I miscounted. Calm down.

    Mind you, "nastier" is a nasty word.

  • A geek is a skilled nerd. Nerds are just nerds but geeks have skills. Maybe "news for nerds" isnt that appropriate?

    Lost Carrier

  • Does it matter? I mean.. c'mon -- a rose is a rose by any other name.
    We're the ones with the power, and that is what counts.
  • Do you think I can wire up a bunch of geeks and nerds together and run an awesome Beowulf on 'em?

    (Has linux been ported to nerds yet, or does it still only run on geeks?)
  • Im in agreement that whatever people call you they generally know what they mean and so do you. This has been very confused in my school at least and a while ago a few ppl somehow came to the conclusion that a nerd works hard and is involved with work, while not nessesarily being smart at all. A geek was someone that was smart and generally used this to do as little work as possible, and get out of trouble, as opposed to the nerd who would never do anything to get himself in trouble. About a month later tho9 this was pretty much forgotten about, and it was back to confusion but i dont think that it really matters. you know who you are (i hope) and thats what is important.
  • In the wonderful book "Microserfs", author Douglas Coupland touches on this subject severel times. I won't try to recreate his words -- you should go read it yourselves -- but one thing I remember is the idea of 'Geek' as beeing a term which implies 'hireability'.

    On a side note, the Danish translator of 'Microserfs' had a rough time because the translation of 'Geek' and 'Nerd' to danish is not injective -- we have only one word (that I know of) for this, namely 'nørd'. Wonder if other languages have more/few alternatives than the two english ones.

  • It depends entirely on the age group. To a taunting third grader, a geek/nerd aren't at all different. But to an educated grown-up(me?), a geek is a derogatory term used by those 3rd-grade taunters turned adults who haven't bothered to learn things technical/useful whereas a nerd is adept in things requiring brains, and so makes said stupid-taunter-people jealous.

    Malaprops aside, imho, (you all know what it means, i don't need to YELL IT) a geek is smart, yet socially inept. Quite able to code, build rockets, visualize space-time like none other, yet one who would posts comments such as this at 1:00 AM.

    A nerd can have less actual ability than a geek, but the nerd has social skills, so those abilities are often more useful than the geek's. A nerd wouldn't waste his time writing something as valuable and important as this. So a nerd is perhaps the more noble nomenclature, yet a geek can pride him/herself on possessing such a superior intellect that normal social contexts just don't apply.
  • I have though about this myself but just think about this for a moment. If /. was to be "news for geeks" how many people would read it to try and be "cool" and how many useless morinic posts would spring up? Although I prefer geek it was originally a tern of insult which is how comunities like /. formed; through alienation. Im prepared to be a nerd if its not the "cool" thing to be, simpily for that reason. "you're all individuals!" "I'm not!"
  • I tend to agree. Nerds are much more driven by intellect and knowledge aquisition. They don't care so much about being an "in" person because they have found there place and are happy to be there.

    Geeks are much more deprived. They want to be part of the hip croud, but for some reason are unsuccessful. Quite oftain it is because they have the unpopular creativity (that is sometimes lacking to the nerd). They are the Sci-fi writers, the AD&D players, the Star Trek fans, and comic book owners... without the excessive IQ.

    That is why it seems that "Geek" is derogitory to "Nerd". I'm a nerd. I love sci-fi, but I understand the science behind the fiction. I help create the fantacy word that the geek has wet dreams over.
  • Actually your description of a nerd fits very accurately in what I'd call a geek. I'm accept being called a nerd - I even do it myself on occasion. But being called a geek? That would be an insult.
  • The previous post said "in certain peer groups" (or something close to that :). With that qualification, it's true. Whitey can't go around calling people nigger without being remarkably offensive, but within certain groups of (especially) black people, the phrase "my nigger" can be used in a positive way, like "my boy," (ie, "Yeah, I got your back, you're my nigger!"). I can only speak for the west coast on this, however.

    The same goes for other ethnic slurs, to varying degrees: guinea and wop come to mind. (Don't think those can count as nasty words any more? If not, $10 says you're not Italian-American)

  • Yeah, how long until we start oppressing all the ones who dont have the power? Looks like a restructuring of society here.

    Its getting to be the mythological "future," with robotic dogs for pets [] and new groundbreaking technology on a daily basis. The geeks finally have a loud voice. But that means its more difficult for the average person to recieve that status. I'm pretty sure most people dont have a computer, or access to a computer that is feasable (i'm not loading any stat programs for a /. post.) But now that we are in charge, lets try not to make the mistakes people of power have done in the past. Oh, wait.. too late for that, we already are.

    How long until the "peasants rebellion?"
  • For some odd reason this has always been the way I always thought... Both are into technology, and both seem out of place in the social world. Nerds relize this but can't seem to do anything about it, no matter how hard they try. Geeks relize this also, but for some reason, they like it that way.
  • For the most part, I consider the two to be interchangable, but I'm more partial to nerd because in high-school we half-way tounge-in-cheek used "nrrrd" and "riot nrrrd" (as in "riot grrrl") as a term to describe a nerd(/geek) who's (at least semi-)punk and anarchosocialist. In addition to being a prime opportunity to replace the "ur" sound with "rrr", it seemed, at least at the time, that a nerd could more probably be into math as well as language, polisci, photography, literature, philosophy, etc., than a geek. Mostly just an excuse to be tounge-in-cheek militant, tho (think "NRRRD" arm bands) :).
  • by jjoyce ( 4103 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @10:47PM (#1511081)
    "We're geeks, we're here, and we're only going shopping if the key size is at least 128 bits."


  • geeks and nerds are of the same aptitude, the only difference being that geeks are subtle about it and nerds want to rub it in peoples faces and are artificially high on themselves.

    Frank Zappa was a geek and Miles Davis was a nerd.

  • We're geeks! We're meek! And we're mildly autistic! Damn... I still can't get that article out of my head :)
  • The word Christian means litterally "little christ" and was first used in Antioch around 40AD.
    The Greeks used it derisively, shouting it as they put the followers of Christ to death. It did not take long though, that it became adopted, and has been used ever since. It happened the same time they adopted the Chi Rho symbol.
  • I think that if you stay to the end, you'll find that the nerds are the winners in that string of 80s movies.

    The clue's in the title, you see, "Revenge of the Nerds".

    If they were the losers, it would be called "Ass-kicking of the Nerds", or "Triumph of the Jocks", or "Many Nerds Hurt", or something.

    God, I'm bored.

  • Mind over mussle, Smart is sexy,
    Death geek [picture geek with two robots behind him looking hard at a bully.. the geek has an evil smile] You'll never know until it's to late.
  • I have one.


    In my high school a couple of years ago, there was a very explosive situation between two groups of people, known as 'freaks' (which I was part of), and 'wiggars' (which was relatively common at the time to refer to white people who acted as a black stereotype). Freaks would be distingushed by their taste in music and quite often their choice of hair color.

    The term 'freak' was used by the 'wiggars' as a derogatory term, but it took only a couple of weeks for the term to be used in a complimentary way between different freaks. The only difference is that if we were called a freak by someone who wasn't, we would still consider it complimentary - we adpoted the term as a valid way to classify ourselves.

    Man's unique agony as a species consists in his perpetual conflict between the desire to stand out and the need to blend in.

  • In my mind there is a very clear distinction. A geek is a general term for the inteligent (usually refering to getting along well with technical devices.) All nerds are geeks, but they are the classic stereotype w/ glasses, out of style clothes (no intention to infer that they were ever in style), similar friends, little social interaction, the near bottom of the social ranking system.
  • Always preferred the word 'spod' when referring to techie types like our good selves. Allegedly from a Yorkshire word meaning 'workaholic', it now applies to your average spend-too-much-time-on-computer people, and manages to convey a positive side. (It's also a verb). New definition: someone who knows what the word 'spod' means. And everyone's happy with recursion.
  • The following commentary is presented in Dolby Surround Stereotyping:

    I'd say a nerd is someone who doesn't break the rules, doesn't take chances, is smart and studious, and doesn't have a lot of crazy fun. Even when a nerd is having leisure time with fellow nerds, they tend to do things like play Spriograph or practice their Latin conjugations.

    A geek is someone weird, usually obsessive about something (not necc. computers; one can be a Dungeons and Dragons geek, etc). However, geeks are much more likely to break rules or even have wild fun with their fellow geeks (stealing a drum of ethyl alcohol from the chem lab, exploring their university's tunnel system) Geeks don't have to be smart.

    Also, nerds tend to be quiet about their social status while geeks tend to shamelessly flaunt it. A nerd would wear a plain white button-down shirt, a geek would wear a 2600 t-shirt.

    A nerd would spend their lunch period reading ahead in a textbook. A geek would be out in the parking lot playing with thermite.
  • Nerds are people that love technology, Geeks are people that know what to do with it. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are Nerds. Linux Torvalds and Jean-Louis Gassee are Geeks. Biiiiiig difference!
  • I prefer Nerd over Geek. I really despise the fact that Geek has become a chic word. Geek still means to me a circus freak who bites the head off chickens. I believe Geek became more popular when someone came up with "Geek Code" which could have just as easily been called "Nerd Code" -- but alas Nerds everywhere were then forced to declare their "geek code" in order to be understood by Nerds & 'Geeks' everywhere.
    Thus, it caught on due to mass leverage.
  • I have to say, I have no idea. I've thought about it a bit, and I guess what I came up with is this, which is totally my opinion, since it seems everyone has a differing opinion.

    To me, neither geek nor nerd are derogatory, but they differ in meaning, since I readily consider myself both...

    A nerd refers to one who is highly adept and passionate about something, or many things. Like "Computer Nerd" is someone really into computers. However, a geek doesn't refer at all to the same thing, but more to social ability (or lack thereof). So, as a nerd and a geek, I'm very passionate and skilled in what I do, yet very inept socially.

    That's what I get from the words.

    Man's unique agony as a species consists in his perpetual conflict between the desire to stand out and the need to blend in.

  • Somebody's .sig goes like that:

    Geek is somebody whose life revolves around computers; nerd is someone whose life revolves around computers and enjoys it.

    How well said.

    Slashdot's motto ('News for nerds..'), however, gives me an impression that most people reading News for Nerds are not geeks ;-).

  • Our slogan should read "Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the earth" (With due credit to the Life of Brian)
  • Yup, agreed on that one. "Spod" I've always taken as someone who hangs out a lot on EW-* talkers or MUDs etc; to me a 'nerd' is a wannabee geek, too - lacking in social interaction or something like that, gets over-excited at every nerd toy to drop from Bill's gracious hand, rather than Linus' ;)
  • Geeks can be nerds, but nerds can't be geeks.

    So, the geek that's a nerd is not a geek at the same time?

    -- Abigail

  • What I'm getting from the discussions here is that nerd is the more likely to be claimed in a positive sense and that geek is more insulting. Here in NZ, at least from where I stand, it's the other way round - geek is more positive and nerd is more negative. I hear terms like "geek flat" used a lot to describe houses full of computers (supposedly any house with more computers than people is a geek house, although I dunno how good a rule of thumb this is because this house of five has more computers than people and I'm the only one who owns any!) and a co-worker and I will refer to doing something geeky rather than doing something nerdy.

    Either way, as the Jargon file alludes, I personally find it a little offensive to be called a geek by somebody who isn't one.
  • Or, as a friend of mine once said 'you can disguide a geek'.

    Meaning geeks and nerds can have equivalent technical skills/inclinations, but that geeks also have a sociable side to them _that allows them to interact with non-geeks/nerds_. This also means that (at least in the circles I travel in) the geeks are slightly more vain (not vain in any absolute sense, naturally, just more vain than their nerdy counterparts :-) and have a wider circle of friends.

    I agreed that three years at university definitely increases the likelyhood of a nerd transforming into a geek.

    (Note : this is just the perceived meaning of those words in the circles I frequent. YMMV)
  • by cg ( 18840 )
    For the past couple of years I have been going with:
    --Geeks apply knowledge/ make money with it.
    --Nerds are just learning.

    That is not to say that Geeks are smarter than Nerds, though. I have gone with this as a way to differentiate the work-force vs. school-based techies among my friends. A Nerd can become a Geek by getting a job, or some other real-world application. A Geek would have to leave work and return to Academia to become a Nerd.

    That's my angle on it.
  • People have called me geek or nerd, or even hacker (Yuck!), and sometimes guru. They are all wrong.

    Friends call me more appropriately:

    -- Abigail

  • I use these in exactly the opposite way.

    i.e. a nerd has all the social problems and probably trainspots and doesn't necesarily understand computers at all.

    Whilst a geek is highly computer literate and while may have some trouble with face to face socialisation, is quite competant at important things like washing themselves.
  • I'm a GNURD

    ... 10am and bored already
  • Well, one of the most powerful examples of a group embracing an epithet which was originally used as an insult is the Quakers. And yes, it is a powerful thing to do. I have no difficulty whatsoever in describing myself as a geek. I am a geek; I'm a good geek, and I'm proud of it.

    I am not, however, a nerd.

  • You obsessive compulsive geek.

    (and yes, I say that in the nicest way possible)


    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • My personal definition in the Geek vs Nerd nomenclature argument comes from []

    I'm also fond of the ideas represented in the Geek Code []. Geeks come in all shapes and sizes, both physically and mentally. Most people I know who I don't consider to be geek/nerds use the term Geek as a form of respect, in a "so that's what you people call yourselves..." manner.

    just my 37.52 Lira... (last I checked, US $0.02)
  • You need better friends.

    "Hey more appropriately, can you come over tonight?"

    (and before you say something, realize this was just a bad joke)

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • Has it occured to anybody that this might be a regional thing? In Oregon, a nerd is smart enough to be intimidating to his/her peers, and a geek is just disliked by his/her peers.
  • Back in my youth, when if you used the word computer, people thought you were pronouncing "commuter" wrongly, the word nurd meant a ridiculously stupid person, somewhere between a dunce and an arsehole. It seems its meaning has taken an 180 degree turn since, and that makes me chuckle (depending on who uses it).
    OBTW: nurd is much more effective in the plural ... "YOU PACK OF NURDS", for example, is a great way of venting your feelings.
  • borg% webster geek
    geek \'ge-k\ n [prob. fr. E dial. geek, geck fool, fr. LG geck, fr. MLG] :
    a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usu. includes
    biting the head off a live chicken or snake.


    Umm... I'm trying to figure out how this came to be associated with computers...
  • That's all fine and well, but in the event that we DO make all the mistakes of those we came after, please let's try to make sure nobody overthrows us, okay? I rather like the idea of societal power. :>

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • There's power in co-opting a negatively-tainted word and turning it into a positive word. Queer and Nigger are both words that are, in the appropriate peer group, used as power words.

    I think geek is a stronger word than nerd. So, with this in mind, a definition of geek could be someone who realizes that they are uncool or unfashionable (by some popular prevailing notion of coolness or fashion) -- and who doesn't really care, and decides not to invest the enormous amounts of time and energy that normal people do in being fashionable, because he/she has more important things to do. Hence the co-option of the harsher word geek.

    But what is a non nerd/geek called? I like the word hipster or urban hipster, because, like nerd/geek, is vaguely insulting.

  • "We're geeks, and you'll pay us to talk over your head!"
    Inspired by being paid $75 an hour to grovel through a guy's web pages explaining, experimenting and going "Well. That's interesting. The reason that didn't work is because..." (though actually we spent 3 hours at it and I only billed for the one we originally planned on)
  • A nerd is hopelessly focused on one thing, to the exception of pretty much all else. You can be a computer nerd, an RPG nerd, a chemistry nerd, or even a politics nerd. But the implication is that you are wearing blinders to the rest of the world.

    Whereas a geek may be equally adept at the same thing as the nerd, but the geek has a broader worldview. The geek goes out on Saturday night, reads the newspaper to see what's going on in the world, and has other hobbies and other areas of interest.

    Geeks are friends with non-geeks, too. Nerds just tend to be friends with other nerds.

    Geeks date and get married. Nerds are frightened to - though some get over it. In general geeks are more socially aware.

    People can have tendencies in both directions - it's not entirely a "either/or" situation. But, for the most part, geeks realize the existence of shades of gray. nerds are more binary in nature. Ask a geek to turn on the light, and they will turn on the nearest or the brightest light - making a judgement as to which one you want. if they aren't sure, they'll ask you which one you meant. Ask a nerd to turn on a light without explicitly specifying which one, and you run a risk of being ignored completely.

    Geeks usually know that they're geeks. Most like it that way. Nerds usually don't realize that they are nerds. Those who do have enough self-awareness that they may eventually become geeks.

    Geeks use higher-level languages than nerds - geeks hack Perl, write shell scripts, and the nerdier ones do Java. Nerds start with Java as a HLL, and work down to assembler.

    When I was growing up a couple of decades ago the two were equally negative, but "geek" referred to personality and "nerd" usually strictly referred to someone technologically obsessed. The terms have obviously changed over the years. Now, even though I see nerd as a less positive term than geek - neither is really much of an insult anymore outside the third grade.

    But all in all, geeks and nerds combined rule the world today - and it's good to be the king!

    - -Josh Turiel
  • Nerds post first and think second ; Geeks think first and post second
  • ...and proud of it!

    As a member of all these groups (and a goth too), I think it's striking how similar the experience of being stereotyped is in each case.

    Data point: "nerd" carries much stronger associations of "poorly dressed, socially and sexually inept" than "geek" for me too.
  • If you read the article, a full etymology is there, but for those of you too lazy to click the link, here it is...

    The words "geek" and "nerd" have been floating around for decades and have morphed well beyond their original meanings. Here's a brief history lesson:

    Of the two terms, "nerd" is the newest. Experts guess its etymology probably dates back to a 1950 work by Dr. Seuss, "If I Ran the Zoo." A passage from the book goes, "I'll sail to Ka-Troo and bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, a Nerkle, a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" Soon after the book came out, "nerd" started turning up in conversation. In the '60s, it was usually used in reference to your basic square. During the '70s, it came to carry the intelligent-but-socially-inept meaning that persists today.

    Geek, on the other hand, has its roots in a now-obsolete Dutch word, "geck," which meant "fool." By most accounts, the word "geek" came into common usage around the turn of the century to refer to a peculiar or eccentric -- but really smart -- person. In the late '20s, it was also used to describe a carnival performer with a repertoire of disgusting tricks such as biting off chicken heads. The original definition has prevailed.
  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Tuesday November 23, 1999 @03:11AM (#1511158) Homepage Journal
    Why do feel like that in a year or two they'll be GAP commercials where iterchangeable people will be running around in jeans and untucked t-shirts, Palm IX's in hand, to the tune of bland industrial music?

    Come on people. These identity debates are fun, but realize this is nothing but marketting. The same people who scorned us because we don't give a flying fuck about their social games and status symbols are now trying to cash in on our new-found power in the current economy.

    If you think it's now cool to be a geek, you don't get it. You're letting other people have power in how you define yourself.
  • "riot nrrrd"
    ROTFLMAO!!! We've have riots in London this year (next "protest" coming 30th of this month, btw - if you live in london, be careful!), basically dregs of society bitchin' because they have no money (apart from the free state handouts they get from our taxes... Hmm - we're paying them to wreck our streets?).
    Anyway, back on topic, what would a "riot nrrrd" do on a protest march? I can see :

    Free the Penguin protest signs

    Handouts of various Linux distros

    Beowulf clusters being formed over wireless LAN's, all over the city

    Public speakers explaining how that STW thingy was finally unravelled
    Obviously, the police would lose control of the crowd, who would then go on a 12 hour marathon spree of:

    Fixing broken ATM's

    Realigning street lamps

    A mass recompiling of their kernel of choice in the park

  • thats what I've chosen. I proudly call myself geek, and have seen the definition changing. Long live a mutating non-speficic language!
  • Could be that the wannabees, propeller heads and terminal junkies of 1990 appropriated the word "geek" and by 1999 when they had come into their own have now mutated it into a positive term.

    Remember, the script kiddies of today will be the sysadmins of tomorrow (shudder).
  • I dunno, whenever I hear "nerd" I can't help but thing Fonzi and the Happy Days gang.

    Geek, on the other hand, is a cool word, and I proudly label myself one. It lends itself to all sorts of interesting forms:

    • geek out
    • true geek
    • geek central
    One of the few places it doesn't fit is in the zenlike construct "hacker nature". "geek nature" just doesn't work for me (hence, "true geek").

    Of course, I come from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the home of the word "gweep". But since that word was pretty much seized by a group of guys that called themselves GweepCo, it just never really stuck to think of yourself as a gweep unless you were part of that crew. And I'll bet a nickel that there's at least a handful of GweepCo reading right now that are gonna yell at me.

  • Geeks are highly techno-capable, and also intellectual in general, putting them outside the mainstream social circles. We also used to say that geeks were "several sigmas out from the norm" to indicate the same thing.

    Nerds are also social misfits, and may or may not be geek-like in intelligence - the significant difference is that nerds usually have the inability to fit into any social groups - even groups of geeks.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  • by FortranDragon ( 98478 ) on Tuesday November 23, 1999 @04:37AM (#1511190)
    When I was growing up in those pre-IBM PC days both words were a nasty insult used by those who could only measure their own worth by trying to destroy or demean others. I cring when I see others call themselves geeks or nerds because, to me, it means the assholes have won. :(

    I guess there is a generational divide even among those of us with the hacker (classic meaning) mentality. To call oneself a geek or a nerd except as a broad joke, is a sure sign of a luser or a hip-wannabee to those of my generation.

    I guess if it makes you happy to call yourself either of these two words, more power to you, but please understand that some of us despise those words with a passion.

  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Tuesday November 23, 1999 @04:38AM (#1511192) Homepage Journal
    I think you misunderstand me. I don't advocate taking offense at the label, what I object to is giving the label a ridgid definition, and worse, a definition heavily influenced by people who only see themselves and others in catagories.

    Why do you think that article was written? It wasn't about geeks finding acceptance, but more about "hey look, these people who originally outcasts have now established their own locus of power. Let's establish which is the term of derision so we may decide who we accept and who we will continue to scorn." Which is very convienent, because it creates some sort of nerd/geek dichotmaty which allows them to appeal to a demographic (whether be marketing products, democratic elections, or the simple high school popularity contest) while at the same time leaving the negative label to punish people who are socially unnacceptable.
  • by hawk ( 1151 )

    I'm not even sure how many computers thereare in my house . . . But I'm pretty sure that I have more computers than kids (Yes, I know how many kids I have (4), their names, their birthdays, and it's my wife who can't remember our aniversery).

    Lesssee, there's eyry, the K6, temporarily commandeered by the kids (who will be using FreeBSD, not windows, to face the internet with the cable modem installed in their room yesterday); there's Milton, the powerbook 180 that's in pieces and will never run again; a pair of 486's, one of which will work again once I get a new drive; wanderer, a backlit macportable; my old tandy 102; my 486 thinkpad, and the parts for Mercury, my homebrew from, hmm, over 20 years ago. I think that's all of them,but I'm not sure anymore. Plus there's my Mac Classic in california, and my old 128k mac that my brother expanded but never gave back, and 3 apple II's waiting for me to pick up in california (they're only e's, though, not original or even plus).

    Ooops, scratch one of the 486's as an independent computer; it got subsumed into eyry for its copy of windows for the kids software (yes, its broken hard drive is physically mounted in eyry).

    Hmm, how many is that'i lost count . . .
  • There's power in co-opting a negatively-tainted word and turning it into a positive word. Queer and Nigger are both words that are, in the appropriate peer group, used as power words.

    Other group that has done the same thing is the BDSMers/leather community..."pervs/perverts and proud of it".

    It's always interesting to know where the terms we use come from, and what they mean for those that get those terms applied to them/us :)


  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <tms AT infamous DOT net> on Tuesday November 23, 1999 @06:46AM (#1511214) Homepage
    What is a pocket protector?
    A plastic sleeve which you put in your pocket to hold pens and pencils. It protects your pocket from leaking ink. I think they were mostly used by draftsmen and designers who, back before CAD, would have to use several different pens and pencils to draw up plans.

    I had one when I was a kid back in the 1970s, but I haven't seen one (outside of movies) in about 20 years.

  • To me, nerd is more pejorative than geek is. I think of a geek as anyone who gets their satisfaction out of a non-social activity. We have computer geeks, who get their satisfaction out of computers, and don't really care when they last talked to someone face to face. We have drama geeks, music geeks, and so on. Anyone who cares more about what they are doing than about what other people think of them. This (I think) also fits the original meaning of geek (as in side show geek) more closely than than the "ability" definition.

    A nerd, to me, is a bookworm, who gets his validation in whether he conforms to the artificial reward system setup by the schools, and doesn't really care about anything beyond that. This definition doesn't really work for people out of school, but you can recognize people who would have fit this definition when they were in school, and call them nerds too.
  • Really? I used one a little over a year ago, when I was learning drafting (of course). The class was actually a combined drafting/CAD course, required for all engineering students, but I enjoyed it.
    Back on topic, if someone calls /me/ a geek, they better have a smile on their face, or they are in _big_ trouble. ;)
  • I can't *wait* until The Gap changes their marketing strategy

    I can't wait until Pepsi-Co changes their marketing strategy for Mountain Dew from showing people doing extreme-sports-type things to showing a bunch of geeks eating pizza, drinking Dew, and hacking kernel code at five A.M. on the fourth day of a hundred-hour coding session, since we know who the poeple are who really "do the Dew". As a backdrop, they could use something that looks like my cubicle, with nearly a thousand empty Mountain Dew cans stacked up. (Once they were piled five high on my shelf, I decided to glue them together so they wouldn't fall on the head of the marketing guy across the wall; I've also made a Borg cube, several versions of SGI's old cube logo, the five Platonic solids, and a throne for Tux to sit on. They could profile me and talk about Mountain Dew art, etc.)

    It was done a few years ago, with (I think) the Volkswagen Jetta: they did a commercial with a gang of hackers who were writing a driving game and using their car for inspiration, It showed them piling into the car while eating pizza, drinking soda, and generally being weird, and it made them look pretty cool. That might have actually marked the beginning of the mainstream glamorization of geekhood.

    David Gould
  • >>Queer and Nigger are both words that are, in the appropriate peer group, used as power words.

    I have a personal take on this because I'm both a techie and I'm black.

    I am also rather imposing in a physical sense. I'm 6'1" and I weigh about 208 pounds. I find it offensive when someone outside of one of my groups uses such a term to refer to me.

    When a clueless technophobe refers to me as a geek or a nerd I don't like it. Just as when a non-black person refers to me as a nigger.

    I've gotten into fights over both. As I grow older I refuse to use pejorative terms in a fraternal way. I will not call other people geeks, or niggers because I don't like it if someone calls me either of those things.

    Then again maybe the term geek just doesn't apply to me. I am a techie in my heart, I've already got plans to spend next year's tax refund on an Über-cool Athlon upgrade for my computer, and my house is wired for ethernet.

    At the same time I carry a .45 when I'm not at work, I can outdrink Marines on a weekend pass, and in high school I played football with someone who went on to play in the NFL (I'm not going to say who because I hate name droppers).

    The terms Nerd and Geek pidgeonhole us in an unfair way.


"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger