Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What exactly is a Nerd?

According to Wikipedia:

Nerd, as a stereotypical or archetypal designation, refers to somebody who passionately pursues intellectual or esoteric knowledge or pastimes, rather than engaging in a social life, participating in organized sports, or other mainstream activities. The Merriam-Webster definition is an "unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits."

I would describe a nerd as someone that is socially awkward. To me this designation doesn't necessarily mean that you are smart. We had a guy at Randolph that was extremely socially inept. His name was Maurice. He had bad skin, huge pink lips, an Urkle-esque voice, and was so willing to be accepted amongst the popular kids that he became a bulls eye for their ridicule and harassment. They'd make him feel like they wanted to bring him into their circle just to bring up a story about his masturbating to one of the attractive girls in his grade. You see Maurice was a nerd, but he wasn't smart. He is what I call unfortunate.

Now I've been called a nerd before, of course not as I've gotten older. The first time was when I was in the fifth grade. I was in an enrichment program. The class just below us, the 1 class--we were 5-E they were 5-1, passed us in the hallway and called us nerds. We laughed because we knew they were jealous, because they were second best. We got all of the attention for being the "gifted" kids.

When I went to Junior High School I was never given this designation. Mostly, because only the smart kids knew that I was smart. I never pretended that I wasn't. People that just knew me from the neighborhood or that just met me might've assumed I was destined to be a juvenile delinquent, LOL. This was far from the case. I stayed in SP classes throughout JHS. So I was separated from most of the other kids except for lunch and gym. I blended well with the smart kids and the delinquents.

I suppose some people might've thought I was a nerd in high school. I was always on the honor roll. However, I always had a lot of friends, who thought I was really crazy. I experienced a bit of an identity crisis during the earlier portion of the 9th grade so perhaps I think the label would've been appropriate at that time.

I remember going to play on a basketball team (not for my high school--a neighborhood team). It was assumed that we were all stupid. We were required to take these retarded classes that a fifth grader should've been able to handle. I quit the team, because I couldn't take the classes.

Other than that I've never been awkward. I've had a very defined personality. People have respected me for who I was.

My older cousin called me a super nerd growing up. He was also very smart. However, I was a straight A student for so much of my life. It was kind of like being called a braniac--which a lot of people used to call me.

Our high school Valedictorian was super smart. I would've never called him a nerd. He was a bit socially awkward (as most genius type personalities are), but he had a lot of friends. He was cool being different. That made us more eager to accept him.

This post isn't about bragging about my intelligence level. You can make that judgment based on knowing me. It is to dispel some of the negative connotation behind the word.

Some times it is a good thing to be called a nerd. That's when the expression is given from some that are jealous or perhaps to signify that you're smart. Lenora Fulani says that we need more nerds in the black community. She wants people that aren't afraid to show how smart they are, people who can avoid the snares of popularity and that acceptance brings. Wouldn't that be wonderful for America at large?

You might ask what brought about my decision to post this. I went to a funeral and one of my former classmates saw me. He played on that basketball team that I mentioned. He was in the 2-E class with me. I fought a bully for him (that was in our class). He sold his condo to my cousin. So both my cousin and I know the guy. Well he told my cousin that I was a nerd in school. I found that kind of funny. I told my cousin that he was in my class and that he was smart. The guy did tell my cousin that he wished that he would've stayed on the path that I followed. He switched schools in the 3rd grade. He took the wrong path, even though he's a good guy. My cousin told him that I'm super smart, that I was never a nerd. It's so funny how differently people use the word nerd.

Okay that's enough rambling.


L said...

I've had this conversation numerous times in numerous contexts. The consensus has always been that "nerd," as you say, has a negative connotation, whereas "geek" has a connotation of "hipness," or at least less social awkwardness. The nerd would be huddled in front of a computer terminal chatting on IRC while the "geek" would be spinning 7" Polka records from Lichtenstein for his/her friends. They are both interested in esoteric, intellectual pursuits, but it is the context and method of these pursuits that differs.

So I think you're a geek, because wouldn't the nerd would have posted the definition of "nerd" from the Oxford English Dictionary

Excalibur said...

I think the connotation of geek is even worse than nerd, LOL.

Brittanica's second definition would apply:

2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of

See neither label would've worked for me (especially when I was younger). I was the cool smart kid to most people (with a big mouth). I was the kid that people wanted around because I told crazy stories and made everyone laugh.

I agree that it would be closer than nerd, but please if you knew me there's no way that you'd ever assign any of those labels, LOL.

It's the people that don't know you that feel free to carelessly toss around such labels.

In my eyes

Carlton on Fresh Prince: Nerd
Urkle: Geek

I'd rather hang around Carlton. Urkle I would just make fun of.

Excalibur said...

Some of my coworkers have commented to me regarding this post, a bit gunshy on commenting on the blog.

So I'll try to sum up some of their views:

1. Nerd and geek are used interchangeably. There's not too much difference in the modern usage of either.

2. Techies are now considered geeks. (I wonder if this has to do with the Geek Squad

3. This is coming from me. At our office the Art Director used to refer to us as the Brain Trust. I loved that nickname a lot.

So I say this all to say there doesn't seem to be a consensus. this certainly won't be an issue that decides the next Presidential election, but it was fun to talk about.