This post is inspired by an argument I got into with a friend about the word Nerd and who is nerdy, what being a nerd means, etc and onward. (For the sake of clarity, I am going to use nerd/geek interchangeably because I no longer believe there is any real difference.)
I mean to address a few key questions in this post:
Who is a nerd?
Can anyone be a nerd?
Is being called a nerd an insult/when is being called a nerd an insult?
What’s the difference between being a nerd and “Nerding Out”?
Is there a “Nerd Community”?
Are all nerds intelligent?
I am going to begin with a basic dictionary definition:
Mirriam-Webster defines nerd as: an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person;especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits
Dictionary.com: a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person; an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with anonsocial hobby or pursuit
Well. I think those definitions need to be updated. We all know that is no longer what being a nerd is all about. Let’s try urbandictionary.com
1. An individual persecuted for his superior skills or intellect, most often by people who fear and envy him.
2. An ‘individual’, i.e. a person who does not conform to society’s beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obesssion with a given subject, usually computers. Unfortunately, nerds seem to have problems breeding, to the detriment of mankind as a whole.
Okay… maybe I should try geek instead.
Mirriam-Webster: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked, an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity
dictionary.com: a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders), a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who isperceived to be overly intellectual.
Urbandictionary.com: Not to be confused with nerd. A geek does not have to be smart, a geek is someone who is generally not athletic, and enjoys Video Games, Comic Books, being on the internet, and etc.
Well, that’s the closest the definition comes and it is still so, so, so lacking. I identify as a “Nerd Girl” I tell my friends, “You’re such a nerd,” as a term of endearment, I pretend to take away people’s “Nerd Cards” when they haven’t seen something like, I don’t know, The Avengers.
But if you try to pinpoint an exact definition of what a nerd or a geek is, you don’t get a really accurate description of the kind of 20th Century person who takes these labels on with pride. I couldn’t be happier to be a nerd.
There is a real, tangible reason for this: pop culture. Everything comes down to pop culture, it would seem. You have Spider-Man, and Batman, and Iron Man. You have X-Men, and Thor, and The Green Lantern (No matter how awful that was.) You have The Big Bang Theory, King of the Nerds, and Game of Thrones.
You have shows like Bunheads, about small town ballerinas, making references to Game of Thrones saying things like, “No one steals Khaleesi’s dragons!”
You have LOTR, Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games (Bunheads also has some pretty hilarious Hunger Games mentions).
THIS IS THE TIME OF THE NERD. Pop culture icons like Marvel and Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams have taken nerd classics like sci fi, fantasy, wizards, dragons, science, magic and made them mainstream.
DOCTOR WHO. I’m assuming that Doctor Who is the single most-watched television show in the entire world and I can’t think of anything nerdier!
Supernatural, Sherlock, Dexter, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, True Blood. These are all extremely nerdy shows that somehow every day people have started watching. And because everyday people are showing up for the ratings, us NERDS benefit greatly.
(It’s occurring to me that this might be a very long blog post. I will try to break it up with some fun graphics!)
Who is a nerd?
I mostly agree with this statement but what I don’t agree with, and what I got into an argument with my friend about, is that anyone can be a nerd. Well, anyone can because a nerd but I don’t think that being passionate about something means you’re a nerd. Here comes that difference between being a nerd and nerding out.
I think if someone is really into sports and gets really into Fantasy Football, and stats, and knowing all the players, they are nerding out. I don’t think this makes them a nerd. And the reason I don’t, is because the average person who nerds out about sports, would not feel they fit into the “nerd community.” They might not appreciate it if after listing off a long string of stats someone said, “Man, you’re such a nerd.” They might find it insulting.
(There are of course exceptions. Wil Wheaton is a huge nerd who also frequently nerds out about the LAKings. If his only nerdy quality was his intensely passionate feelings towards the LAKings, I wouldn’t label him as a nerd. He probably also wouldn’t wear the horse head.)
So what’s the difference between someone who watches Game of Thrones and is a nerd? Someone who liked the Avengers movies and is a nerd?
Nerd goes beyond watching and enjoying.
Nerd is about how you experience things, nerd is about what you do with the things you love. One of my friends is knitting a mobile, talking Dalek from Doctor Who, another of my friends is building herself a Tangled costume, another bought all the Avengers BluRays in a SHEILD briefcase with a replica tersseract and personnel folders for all the characters. I have an in-box, limited edition Hunger Games Barbie doll on my dresser, Sirius Black’s wand, a Hedwig pillow, etc, etc etc.
Nerds go to conventions, they hold viewing parties, they line up at midnight to see movies other people haven’t heard of (Dragonball, anybody?) Nerds FREAK THE FUCK OUT when things are awesome, they hold their breath when their favorite characters might die, they make scenes in the movie theater when awesome things happen.
Just this morning I saw the trailer for Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and I freaking hyperventilated in front of my computer. #coulsonlives
Nerds don’t only love The Avengers, they know that Joss Whedon wrote and directed it. They know every other project that Joss Whedon has ever worked on. They know that Joss Whedon was the reason Rex is part of Toy Story. NERDS STILL LOVE FIREFLY TEN YEARS AFTER IT WAS CANCELLED. Nerds would take a bullet for Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris, or Felicia Day.
Nerds love things that have passed. I open my pinterest page on any given day and there are still 2 or 3 people posting things about Buffy or Firefly or Harry Potter. We love what we love forever.
Nerds spend $300 at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and plan for their Doctor Who themed weddings. Nerds watch Castle because it has Nathan Fillion in it and The Decoy Bride for David Tennant.
So… to calm down for just a moment… I think that being a nerd means not only liking something that isn’t exactly mainstream, but also loving it to the point that you feel the need to interact with it in some way. I don’ t think someone who nerds out about sports or fishing or travel can be considered a nerd on those criteria alone. Someone who nerds out about activities that are primarily socially accepted really don’t understand what it is to be a nerd. No one says to a travelling football fan, “You’re such a nerd,” but my mom says it to me when I explain that the reason there’s a nerf gun in pieces in the basement is because I’m making a Steampunk gun for a costume. She also says I’m my father’s daughter, but that’s completely unrelated.
Is there a nerd community?
Abso-fucking-lutely. It’s not hard to find either. Facebook, tumblr, pinterest. All of these sites, not really originally meant for this purpose, have become nerd hubs. Pinterest began a DIY site, and if you only follow certain people, you can keep it that way. But with just a few searches and follows, suddenly your entire home board is an array of Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, science and math jokes, Harry Potter, etc, etc. I barely need to leave pinterest anymore to get my nerd fix. With new images and quotes and jokes and theories coming out every day, it’s like nerdvana up in there.
And the thing about community is that you can find someone wherever you go. At the grocery store last week my clerk casually mentioned that he was going home to watch his shows. I asked what he watched and 20 minutes later we were in a rapt conversation about Doctor Who, Castle, and Firefly.
Is being called a nerd an insult?
That really depends. If my friends call me a nerd, it’s not an insult because they are also nerds. When my mom calls me a nerd it’s more out of exasperation and confusion, she doesn’t know what to do with me. But she honestly does try to relate! Last week she sent me a text saying, “There’s a new Star Trek movie coming out soon!” as if I didn’t know, but she tries!
But the terms nerd and geek started as insults and every word that’s ever been taken back can still be used to sting. People, less-enlightened, non-nerd, red-neck people, will still try to use it as an insult. But it’s like telling a homosexual, “You’re so gay.” Well yes… what of it? I love being a nerd and no close-minded sports loving, camouflage wearing jerkface is going to make me think differently.
Are all nerds smart?
Now here is where the new definition greatly diverges from the old. No, not all nerds are smart. Because being a nerd is no longer about your intelligence or your computer skills. It’s about what you love and how you love it. In the show King of the Nerds, contestants were expected to be very smart in many areas, but this isn’t the general case. Nerds, like any other type of person, vary in intelligence and skill. I prefer the smart nerd, but that doesn’t mean the less intelligently inclined can’t be just as batshit crazy about Batman as anyone else.
Man… I think that’s it. Whew.