Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Geeks, Nerds, & Dorks

Geek. Nerd. Dork.

Somewhat permissible four-letter words. The Holy Trinity of playground epithets.

In my early 80's childhood, these were synonyms. The Tri-Lambdas were nerds, but they could have just as easily been geeks or dorks.

With the dawn of the NerdASDAQ, the spectacled set became awkward social overlords. Alex Rodriguez may make a lot of money playing baseball -- $25 million per year at the time of this writing -- but he'd have to make that salary for 192 years to have as much money as Bill Gates has right now.

As the keys to the kingdom now come in a nerdy box, people now use the terms geek, nerd, & dork with a greater degree of linguistic accuracy.

Geek now conveys a high degree of interest in a geeky topic. What's a geeky topic? Observe The Geek Hierarchy, grasshopper. (via Ann Maria Bell)

Being called a geek is no longer that bad, unless the term is used by others to describe you to someone you're interested in dating.

However strange it sounds, it appears that Nerd was a term coined by Dr. Seuss. Quite the schoolyard bully, that Seuss.

Nerd still retains some of its grade school nastiness; however, I've found that adults almost exclusively say it in a loving way, with a smile. The most frequent usage of the term is in the phrase, "You are such a nerd!" after you've betrayed a truly geeky personal interest. (Again, refer to The Geek Hierarchy to understand an activity's level of geekiness. You can examine the Frequently Paraprased Questions if you're still baffled.)

Dork is still bad, almost meaner than it was back in the day.

I don't buy Webster's definition, placing dork between nerd and jerk. Show me these jerk nerds. Besides, nerk or jerd would work perfectly well to describe these people.

In the linguistic circles I run in, dork is rapidly becoming the new jerk.

Anyway, none of this may interest you. That is, unless you're a nerdy geek like me.


Hoff said...

Oh, I have to differ with you on Dork and Nerd. Personally, I and most of the people I can think of immediately who use both words have them backwards from your descriptions below. 'Dork' is the somewhat endearing, often self-admitted descriptor. 'Nerd' I find to be the more vile adjective, still associated with its traditional grade-school stigmas and stereotypes.

Andy said...


I can see where you're coming from; however, I think we're identifying approximately the same social situation, where the terms are employed by those who are close to us. Anything said by our friends (or by ourselves in an act of self-deprecation) is likely to have a loving tone to it.

What do dork and nerd sound like when coming from a stranger, though? Take that bastion of propeller heads, Slashdot, as an example.

Slashdot's slogan is News for Nerds. Stuff that matters. This catchphrase would sound very different if it read News for Dorks. Stuff that matters. (Even change the first sentence to Data for Dorks to keep the illiteration... I think it still sounds somewhat less endearing than its nerdy equivalent.)

What dork lacks is the hidden you're-probably-pretty-bright compliment that hides within nerd.

HoneyBee said...

I find your post facinating! There is a huge difference between the three words.
However, I don't think of 'dork' as an offensive term (none of them are to me. I am who I am. Why should I be ashamed when someone acknowleges it?). I am a self admitted 'dork'. I have often stated "I'm the coolest dork you'll ever meet".
Still, it's nice for someone to acknowlege the difference in the 3 terms.
All you bullies and popluar-cheerleader-too-stuck-up-to-even-return-my-'Hi'- types out there - they don't mean the same thing! So pick the right one!

FMC said...

to me, a dork is and always be a whale penis

but perhaps that is why i am such a dork

fwvliw, i agree with hoff - dork is often endearing whereas nerd is more of an insult. dorks are cool smart people (at relative to other smart people - on an absolute scale dorks are still socially inept). geeks are socially awkward uber-smart people. nerds are just assholes.