From Academic Kids

For other uses of the term, see nerd (disambiguation).

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Marilyn in the cartoon series Bonkers

Traditionally, the designation nerd (occasionally in the form nurd) applies to an intellectually gifted (probably > 120 or so IQ) but lonely and socially awkward person, one fascinated by knowledge, especially science and mathematics, and less interested in physical and social activities. Visual impairment (hence the glasses) and some form of High-Functioning Autism are also common characteristics, and the social impairment can often be explained by the latter. Beginning in the late 1990s, many nerds on the Internet reclaimed the word nerd as a badge of pride, and began using it as a positive description of any technically competent person, with less implication or focus on social awkwardness. Dispute continues as to whether to regard nerd and geek as synonyms, or if not, as to exactly how they differ.

The philosopher Timothy Charles Paul Fuller adopted the term nerd in the mid-1960s to describe a stereotypical intelligent recluse with poor social skills, one often the butt of others' jokes. The word itself first appeared in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, where it simply names one of Seuss's many comical imaginary animals. (The narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo.) Another theory of the word's origin sees it as a version of Mortimer Snerd, the name of Edgar Bergen's ventriloquist dummy. Yet another theory traces the term to Northern Electric Research and Development, where the employees wore pocket protectors with the acronym N.E.R.D. printed on them. And yet another theory claims that nerd comes from the word "drunk" reversed to "knurd", to illustrate someone who did not drink at parties.

The stereotypical nerd image as seen in the mass media and cartoons equates to a young man wearing thick black glasses (preferably broken and taped up with electrical tape), pocket protectors, high-water pants and dress shirts or clothes generally too formal for the circumstances. Sometimes the stereotype lacks personal hygiene skills, and he will typically appear either very skinny or extremely fat. Stereotypical nerds usually lack social graces and the ability to perform social interaction, except on technical topics.

Traditionally used solely to describe men and boys, the terms "nerd" and "geek" have been adopted by many women interested in technology, science, mathematics and other typically male-dominated intellectual fields as badges of their accomplishments in these areas.

In association with their image in certain Western societies as a so-called Model Minority, some East Asians get stereotyped as studious and untalkative nerds.


Nerds in art and literature

Dramatic depictions of good nerds typically have them as good-hearted people who wish harm on no one, but whom their obvious intellectual inferiors bully. Many nerds in fiction play roles as supporting characters who provide valuable sources of information or useful skills for the heroes. Nerds as lead characters often have a secret identity as a superhero; so a put-upon person has a wonderful secret. Nerds in supporting roles often feature as technological geniuses who invent or repair plot devices that enable the main characters to move towards a goal. They also serve as socially inept foils to much more charming main characters.

Evil nerds, typically embittered through a lifetime lived as a social outcast and seeking revenge upon the world, provide a popular archetype for the supervillain, often as a mad scientist.

Nerds in anime often wear round white opaque glasses, with or without a spiral drawn on them. If they wear transparent glasses, they like to adjust their glasses so that they reflect light, and give an intimidating feeling. These characters usually play more important parts in the story than in western entertainment, probably due to the Japanese culture's emphasis on academic work and studies rather than on social success. (Note too that people who make anime or manga would themselves often qualify as otakus or nerds.)

In the 1990s, "nerd" developed distinct positive connotations within social spheres connected to computing and the Internet, to denote with pride a technically skilled person. This also extended towards financial success in these fields, with Bill Gates himself often described as a nerd, though a remarkably wealthy one. The popular computer-news website Slashdot bills itself as "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."

Non-nerds often think of nerds as intelligent yet socially awkward people. Stereotypically, in high school, the more "popular" or more socially adept teens often ridicule and bully those labeled as nerds, who have a reputation of engaging deeply in academic areas. Nerds generally express an above-normal interest in complex subjects and often function as polymaths. Topics dealing with computers and technology, comic books, role playing games, classical music, artificial intelligence, anime, film, science fiction and fantasy literature have become heavily associated with nerds.

Because of these tendencies, some have noticed similarities between nerdy behavior and the neurological disorder of Asperger's syndrome. No studies have shown a correlation or causal relationship between the two; only anecdotal evidence suggests a connection.

Nerds and geeks

Pundits and observers dispute the relationship of the terms nerd and geek to one another. Some view the geek as a less technically skilled nerd. Some factions maintain that "nerds" have both technical skills and social competence, whereas geeks display technical skills while socially incompetent; others hold an exactly reversed view, with geek serving as the socially competent counterpart of the socially incompetent nerd, and call themselves geeks with pride (compare Geekcorps, an organization that sends people with technical skills to Third World countries to assist in computer infrastructure development).

Some regional differences may exist in the use of the words nerd and geek. Some claim that on the North American west coast the population prefers the term geek to nerd, while the North American east coast prefers the word nerd to geek (see Ellen Spertus's page on The Sexiest Geek Alive ( Others on the east coast dispute this, claiming that they have always found nerd used disparagingly and geek used in a positive light. In Britain, this latter view tends to apply — nerd has more offensive connotations than geek, which speakers of British English often use affectionately. Compare anorak.

The word nerd gained currency from the 1950s at a time when many school students did not see excelling at school as "cool". Therefore nerd originated as a derogatory word (although some people now consider it a compliment), while the term geek became widespread later (1980s) and has avoided many of the negative connotations. Geek as a milder version of nerd may also apply to socially insignificant people, while nerd refers more to socially inept people.

Nerd pride

MIT professor Gerald Sussman aims to instill pride in nerds:

My idea is to present an image to children that it is good to be intellectual, and not to care about the peer pressures to be anti-intellectual. I want every child to turn into a nerd - where that means someone who prefers studying and learning to competing for social dominance.
-- Gerald Sussman, quoted by Katie Hafner, "New York Times", 1994-08-29.

The 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds explored the concept of "nerd pride" to comical effect.

An episode from the animated series Freakazoid titled "Nerdator" has a plotline that involves the use of nerds to power the mind of a Predator-like enemy, who delivers a memorable monologue on the importance of nerds:

"...what they lack in physical strength they make up in brain power. Who writes all the best selling books? Nerds. Who directs the top grossing Hollywood movies? Nerds. Who creates the highly advanced technology that only they can understand? ...Nerds. And who are the people who run for the office of the Presidency? No one but nerds."

Eventually, after having the flaws pointed out, he decides to drain the minds of good-looking but vapid airhead (but nobody cares).

Within science fiction convention circles in Toronto, Canada being a nerd is embraced. The labels "dude-nerd" and "chick-nerd" have been coined.

Depictions in fiction and media

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Steve Urkel, from Family Matters is one of the more famous examples of nerds in popular culture

Numerous examples exist in Revenge of the Nerds and Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise

See also

External links

de:Nerd es:Nerd fi:Nörtti fr:Nerd nl:Nerd no:Nerd pl:Nerd pt:Nerd sv:Nörd


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