Nerd versus geek…

In honor of Star Wars Day, I want to establish a distinction between two words with similar meanings that are frequently used interchangably, their meanings are distinct and separate, and tend to be used incorrectly. Both tend to be prefixed by a term used to designate a personal interest that, for the individual being described, either borders on obsession or qualifies as an obsession outright, although they may be used without such descriptors (and this is one reason why the two are incorrectly conflated with one another).

Geeks are focused on the coolness of their area of interest, and frequently seek acceptance for themselves and the subject of their interest outside of the community of enthusiasts who share it.

Nerds are academic, and tend to limit themselves to like-minded individuals (consciously or not) through displays of (frequently exhaustive) knowledge about their specific interest.

As both terms have shed much of their connotation as derisive origins, they have also been broadly expanded to encompass most areas of personal interest as opposed to those traditionally associated with the stereotype they describe. For example, while there are still science fiction geeks and computer nerds, there are also baseball geeks and war nerds. Geeks tend to be more descriptivist in conveying the interest of their affections and therefor, accepting of deviations within those who share it, whereas nerds are much more dogmatic and prescriptivist — to a nerd, there is only ever one “right” answer, even where the answer is purely subjective or contested. A Star Trek geek might argue about whether Kirk or Picard was the superior star ship captain while seeking to build consensus based on their personal preference, whereas a Star Trek nerd will remain adamant that their preference is the ONLY correct choice, while presenting a list of facts and arguments intended to “prove” it.

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  • Comments (2)
    • Uriel
    • May 4th, 2011

    THIS may be the single most important thing you have ever written.

    • Max Bell
    • May 4th, 2011

    I’m certain of it!

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