Saturday, August 27, 2016

Geek or Nerd? Dork or Dweeb?

Karen: Back on Tuesday (August 23rd), in a post about stuff we didn't like, after a mention of geekdom, Doug made a comment that he didn't consider himself a geek, and even found the term offensive. After some ribbing by regulars Tom and Mike W., our esteemed leader conceded that "I suppose by someone's standards all this stuff we like is geeky. I never really cared for John Wayne films, so maybe I am geeky. I'll go fetch my pocket protector."

Karen: Today's question for you is what constitutes a geek? How about a nerd? How do you feel about these terms? Once thought of as derogatory terms, they now carry a veneer of coolness, as mega-nerds like Bill Gates conquered the world, and all the top films seem to be about super-heroes or space battles. On the other hand, dorks and dweebs are still at the bottom of the social ladder.

Karen: However, sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, especially nerd and geek. I always thought geek > nerd, because to me, nerds might have been into all the weird stuff geeks were, but they were also stuck with crushing a lack of social skills. I thought of myself as a geek, someone who loved science and the space program, science fiction in all forms, the Lord of the Rings and of course, comic books! But I could still have a conversation with a 'normal' person and not tip them off that I was of a different species. A nerd on the other hand, might love the same things as me, but would stumble and fumble their way through any social encounter, either heading for the nearest exit or loudly and awkwardly demonstrating their otherness.

Karen: I came across this Venn diagram that has divided up the terms and given them basic attributes.

Credit: Matthew Mason

Karen: So what do you think of this classification? It seems pretty good to me. The geek seems to come out ahead, and certainly, if you're a fan of comics, science fiction, and other genre fandom, you'd rather be thought of as a geek than a nerd based on these definitions. And no one would want to be a dweeb or a dork! But I'm sure there are dorks who think they are nerds...or nerds who think they are geeks...

Karen: You could probably argue for other characteristics that could define geeks/nerds/etc. And is there really overlap for all of them? I mean, could a dork just be socially inept? Or how about a nerd being more about math and science, while a geek might not be as academically inclined but more of a genre fan?

Karen: As I mentioned at the beginning, there's some thought that these terms, particularly geek and nerd, are used far too cavalierly nowadays. Most people think of nerds as being very smart, but you have a lot of folks self-labeling as nerds. Can the average person really be considered a nerd compared to, say, Neil Degrasse Tyson? And there are geeks everywhere now -I get annoyed with the self-proclaimed "Marvel geeks" who claim expertise on the characters when they've never opened a comic book -but hey, they've seen all the films five times!

Karen: No, geekdom and nerdiness are medals that were won with sweat and tears (maybe even blood, if you got beat up), and those of us who truly earned them, back when it wasn't cool, are the only ones entitled to wear them. The rest of them are just ...mundanes? What's the word for them?


Anonymous said...

Geek, nerd, dork...whatever. I love BAB and read it every day but I don't own any reprints, or any longboxes of comics or any action figures or any DVD's of Star Trek or superhero films or any memorabilia whatsoever so am I a geek ? The only obviously geeky thing about me is that I buy the British magazines SFX and Sci-Fi Now every month (I'm currently reading the latest issue of Sci-Fi Now which celebrates 50 years of Star Trek - woo hoo). But if somebody called me a geek for liking comics/sci-fi I wouldn't be at all offended, unlike Doug. However, I don't understand why liking sport is cool but liking sci-fi is geeky. Sci-fi/comics/superheroes is for kids ? So is bloody sport !!!

Redartz said...

Great topic for a Saturday morning, Karen! A mental poser to get the geek/nerd brain going.
Thinking back to the youthful past, I was the recipient of all four of those terms (and also the recipient of a few bruises from some of those troglodyte classmates). A result of not only being fascinated by comics and books, but also being a rather small, unathletic kid with glasses. So I pretty well fit the stereotype, and also was guilty of a certain level of social ineptitude. Perhaps all those terms for your classification would have fit me; of course years of growth have dealt with many of those pre-teen problems. I grew taller, gained confidence socially, and came to accept (and embrace) that 'uniqueness'. None of the terms bother me, but if asked would classify myself as a 'geek' or 'nerd'.

The classification chart you illustrate seems fairly apt. "Geek" does bring to mind genre fans, while "nerd" suggests a certain intellectual bent. "Dork" and "Dweeb" are almost interchangeable, with their essence of social discomfort...

Colin- excellent point about liking sports vs. liking sci-fi/comics. What's the difference between fans obsessing over playing sports games (yes, soccer, football, baseball, etc. are big money draws, and dramatic, but are GAMES), and fans obsessing over stories and artwork? You see cosplayers dressing as their favorite characters, but you also see sport fans painting themselves all over with their team colors. Is there any real difference? Hmmmmm....

Anonymous said...
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Martinex1 said...

Colin makes a great point as Redartz said. Collecting is also part of the sports culture with memorabilia and baseball cards. I can remember youngsters criticizing collecting comics but at the same time they had boxes of cards and shelves lines with hats. I also think the Diagram is fairly close to defining the categories; in my neck of the woods there was also "spaz" for those of us who couldn't catch too well. I never took much offense to any of it as we all seemed to feel like outsiders in someway and seemed to joke and tease a lot. We used to call the jocks "meatheads", "knuckles" and "moose". By appearance, I'm probably more of a moose now! Ha!

The hardest part was getting dates to dances, so I guess that's probably changed a bit for the new generation. And I am glad that glasses have gotten more durable; mine seemed to get broken constantly and tape on your glasses is not cool at all! Revenge of the Nerds and Happy Days seemed to define some of this - is that show where I first heard "nerd"?

William Preston said...

Someone, somewhere . . . has done a doctoral dissertation on this.

William said...

If you look up the definition of all the terms "Nerd", "Geek", "Dork", "Dweeb", etc. They all mean basically the same thing. Which is "A socially inept person."

I don't consider myself "socially inept", but I guess I am a "geek/nerd", as those terms have now also come to mean anyone who is into anything outside the mainstream or "norm". (Like comics, sci-fi, and fantasy, etc.)

I personally have always felt that all those terms were pretty much interchangeable. Especially Geek and Nerd. I don't really mind being called any of those things. All my life I have never been a conformist. I like what I like and I don't apologize for it. And if others need to put label on it I don't really care all that much.

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, never saw that Venn diagram before. Someone really put a lot of thought into that.
For my part, like others I always thought nerd and geek in particular were synonyms, while dweeb was a slightly more recent appellation with roughly the same meaning. A dork - at least most of the times I've heard it used - was basically a dullard or oaf, who didn't necessarily have any nerdy/geeky hobbies and/or obsessions. Also, dork was/is sometimes used as a crude slang term for a part of the male anatomy...

Anyway, I've been called most of those terms at some point, and when I was in elementary school and in my early high school years they certainly applied (none of them really bother me now). Like Karen, though, at some point during in high school I overcome some of my social awkwardness and didn't have many problems relating to most people. Although my case had a few specific aspects that helped me along: I played on the school's soccer team, so that earned me some acceptance among the jocks, and, more importantly, my high school was really small - it was in a pretty rural area, and the lines between certain sub-groups like jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, rich kids, hipsters, stoners, etc. were just not as sharply drawn as in bigger schools. In fact, I had friends who were members of all of those groups. One thing that I really had problems overcoming, though (and never really did in high school), was my almost painful shyness and social awkwardness around any girl I was interested in...

By the way, I so totally agree with the point about sports fanatics vs. geeks/nerds. It always bothered me that some guy who watches every possible team sport, knows all of the minutia of the rules for each and all of statistics from the NBA, NFL, pro baseball, etc. is just considered a normal enthusiast, while I would be looked down upon for having similar knowledge of all things Star Trek and superhero comic books. And yeah, cosplayers are freaks but those guys who put on team jerseys and paint their faces (and often get into brawls) aren't? Right.

Anonymous said...

Well, going by the Venn diagram, I'd probably fall under "nerd", but I always subscribed to Karen's definitions: nerd = math/science, geek = genre which case I'd probably qualify for both titles, but not equally. (I mean, I can multiply double digit numbers in my head, but I can't do integral calculus in my head--or on paper, for that matter--so a "true" nerd would probably think I'm a bit dim.)

But I've been called all those terms at one time or another (and plenty more); in my younger days there wasn't much I could do about it, and now I don't really care; I *like* being a geek, immersing myself in comics, RPGs, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, or whatever. It's one of the things that sets me apart and makes me who I am, so why not be proud of it?

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

When I was in school we didn't actually have words like geek, dork and dweeb - I first heard them years later. And a nerd was just someone who was a bit stupid. We didn't have jocks, cheerleaders, hipsters or stoners either.

Anonymous said...

Wow leave it up to Karen to illustrate the dweeb/nerd/dork/geek relationships using a Venn diagram!

Yeah I have a similar point to Edo's - a friend of mine, let's called him,er, Mick has another friend (called Flash for argument's sake). Flash routinely ridiculed Mick for his love of comicbooks, superheroes, science, technology & pop culture; Flash said it was childish for Mick to have superhero posters on his bedroom walls. But guess what, though? Flash was a big soccer fan, so he had posters of famous soccer players like Ronaldo and Messi on his walls. When Mick saw those posters, he exclaimed 'hey waitaminnit, you're ridiculing me for my Batman poster but you have some sweaty dude on your wall!? You hypocrite!' :)

The point is, in some way, we can all be accused of being geeks, nerds or whatever name you might want to use; it just depends on what your interest is. Some people like most of us in the BAB like comicbooks, other people might like cars, gardening, fashion, fitness, you name it. Like most other things in life, everything depends on your particular perspective.

- Mike 'Trinigeek - hey can I copyright that?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Yes, as Mike from T&T said - anybody who has an obsession about anything is a geek/nerd. Here in the UK we have people who are obsessed about the Royal Family and a few years ago there was a man on the radio who was obsessed about Christmas - he kept his Christmas decorations up all year and every day he cooked a "Christmas dinner". But the really annoying geeks are sports geeks because they think their obsession is normal but everyone else's is weird.

Humanbelly said...

Oh man, SO glad I've finally been afforded some time to check back in here--!

Karen-- GREAT topic, great post, and greatgreatgreat Venn diagram you found, there. It just about nails the subtle differences in those labels that, to the casual eye, appear to be synonymous.

Edo, I think we may have noted before that our high school experiences were very similar. When ya come from a small town, NO ONE has the luxury of retreating to one single clique. Kids are workin' double, triple, and fourple-time to make sure that all of the requisite layers of the social strata are filled, regardless of the challenges of thin population density. And maybe that takes the tendency toward obsessive mono-focus out of a person who could otherwise easily fall into Geek-dom. I LOVED my comic books, but I also LOVED band. . . and Theater. . . and skiing, and the sports teams I participated in (although I was dreadful), and being a "brainy" kid, etc, etc.

The common interest(s) that we celebrate here do tend to draw adherents for whom this "thing" (comics, SF/Fantasy, older pop culture, etc) becomes their ONLY "thing", y'know? Largely the team for whom the social ineptitude side of the equation is the biggest hurdle. (Although I don't actually include our own crowd here in that description) And my heart just breaks for them because, although they find a much-needed comfort zone in the world of,say, comics, and a group of like-minded folks they can happily share it with-- it also becomes their social desert island. The next step in the process is going out and discovering other interests, other "things" that strike a similar resonant chord, and connecting a bit with that circle of folks. The great thing about having a core interest or hobby is that you can ALWAYS return to it after exploring other paths-- it's always gonna be waitin' for ya.

Karen and Doug are just perfect examples for this, too, right?

Karen is a SCIENTIST, for pete's sake! One of those folks responsible for 95% of what happens in comics! And she's a noted essayist (reporter? critic? Karen, what would call yourself-- simply a writer?) on the subject of comics apart from hangin' around here. Feet solidly planted in at least two worlds.

And Doug really kind of breaks any categorical mold, since we know he's a BIG-time sports enthusiast, even though that's so often seen as the polar opposite of a typical comic fan. And he's a history teacher. And does on-going work with teaching the Holocaust. I suspect you could plop Doug down into any gathering, and he'll be able to stay afloat in the conversation.

I'm typing right off the top of my head, here. What was my point--? I think. . .I think it was mainly that nurturing a diversity of interests is surely the key to avoiding the more derogatory labels in that Venn diagram. Or at the very least, attaining Geekhood on a few unrelated topics. Hmm-- is that a point worth making?

Let me ask this (if anyone's still with me, here)-- what other topics, outside of our usual discussion zone, do some of you consider yourselves unreservedly Geek-y about? Anyone care to share?


Doug said...

I guess since I sort of inspired this post with comments I'd made earlier in the week, I should chime into the discussion.

I work very hard with my students to break down labels and the stereotypes that often accompany them, yet I found myself falling victim to just that in the conversation from earlier by falsely misinterpreting the terminology and turning up my nose at some of the implications visually dancing through my head. As HB points out above, I may not be the "classic" comics-lover stereotype, whatever that may be. I was not socially awkward in high school (but hey, we all were in junior high, right?), I did play football and I ran track, and was generally able to have friends among the jocks, preps, stoners, brains, and on and on. I had a girlfriend all through high school, and other young ladies who were friends. So again -- whatever that stereotype is/was (I remarked to Karen that for some reason this conversation evokes in my mind the over-the-top depictions of Revenge of the Nerds), I don't fit at least the version that plays to me.

But I like the Venn diagram, and by its intersections I am a geek for comic books, action figures, original art, et al. I am also a geek for sports (excellent posit, Colin), and music.

So count me an embracer of the term now.

And I'll again retire the pocket protector.


Karen said...

Been a busy weekend, preparing for a trip, and other stuff. But I really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on the topic. One thing I do want to make clear: the Venn diagram is not my creation. I found it while reading an article on Forbes. I've attributed it to Matthew Mason but I could not actually track down his original work. But the best source I could find said he was the author, so...

I do think the terms are very subjective, and in general I don't care for labeling. But it seems like both geek and nerd have become much more positive terms than they once were. 'Our' culture -the culture of those of us who grew up reading comics, Tolkien, science fiction, watching Star Trek, playing role-playing games and generally doing all the things that would get you laughed at and called names back in the Bronze Age by many of our contemporaries - has been in large part co-opted by the rest of society. Almost all of the most popular movies and TV shows are 'genre' shows. Go to work and listen to folks talking about The Walking Dead the same way they would have talked about Dallas years ago! It's bizarre. And honestly -it also bothers me a bit. When I hear somebody like that call themselves a nerd or a geek, it ruffles my feathers. One woman at work kept saying she was a 'space nerd,' so I thought I'd ask her about what part of the space program she was most interested in. I started talking about the early space program, mentioning the Mercury 7, Gemini, Atlas rockets...blank stare. Immediately in my mind I shouted, "Pretender!" But I didn't say anything. Just smiled and let the conversation die. We both knew.

There's an interesting article by Patton Oswalt about how being a geek years ago, particularly before the advent of the internet, meant you really had to work hard at becoming an informed enthusiast -partly through real-time experience (getting comics as they came out on the stands) but also through hunting down resources and poring over them to find pearls of wisdom. With the internet, everyone just goes to a Wiki and thinks they know everything about a subject. I think he's hit the nail on the head. You can find that article here:

Certainly I feel the folks here are informed and that's one of the things I truly appreciate. No one comes barging in here trying to force their views down anyone's throat or acting like a know-it-all, but it's very welcome to hear from people who have actually spent years reading and thinking about the stuff we discuss, rather than a group of internet dilettantes.

Redartz said...

This has truly been a fascinating discussion; thanks Karen for lighting the fire. It is indeed odd to see so many elements of comics and fantasy being held in such high popular regard now. I agree that it is gratifying to hear discussions of these topics by people who actually know the history. That said, there are also some wonderful opportunities now to 'spread the word' as it were. A gentleman that I work with has two daughters, one high schooler and one college-bound. Both have been entranced by Marvel's films, and when their father informed them of his co-worker's hobby, they began inquiring about some comics. It's greatly satisfying to see the next generation 'getting the fever'.

HB- yep, still here with you! Karen and Doug both exhibit great breadth of interest and experience; most admirable. Far more so than I, although I do have 'other worlds' of pursuit:
I find both history and current events richly fascinating, and have always loved science (particularly geology and electronics; spent many years as a medical equipment service tech). And my current career in an art gallery is quite rewarding, and constantly leads to new encounters with intriguing people and intriguing creations. Every day is a new chance for discovery and learning (and the folks here at BAB provide great inspiration to new avenues).

pfgavigan said...


I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, geeked or nerdified! My life is my own!



Humanbelly said...

Ha! I totally wish there was a "like" button that I could hit for your post, there, PFG!

(Heading out shortly this morn on the 10-hour drive to take HBGirl to her Freshman year of college. Excited and kinda heartbroken all at the same time. And on the "Geek" end of the conversation-- we play the "Name That Musical" game the ENTIRE TRIP while listening to XM's Broadway Channel--! Talk about yer divergent obsession!)


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