|Creative Con 2011 File Photo|
These are my people, but sometimes I don’t know what to call us.
I say tomayto, you say tomahto.
In the olden days of the 1970s-80s, at least where I grew up, the term for the outsider kid was “nerd.” We probably picked it up from “Happy Days,” which is where I first heard it used. It referred to someone a bit weird, socially awkward, with an intense interest in something outside the mainstream (most often, sci-fi or comics).
Today, the accepted term for that seems to be “geek.” There’s even a magazine by that name which focuses on imaginative media, including TV and movies, games, books and comics, costuming and more. The words would appear to be almost interchangeable.
Except, they aren’t.
I wondered at first if it’s like the difference between a “Trekkie” and a “Trekker.” The former is a derogatory name mundanes started calling people who were Star Trek fans way back in the 1970s. The latter is how some fans self-identified.
But according to one scientific study widely disseminated on the interwebs, geeks are more social fans and collectors of stuff, while nerds are less social idea people. Geeks would feel the need to defend their interests, while nerds wouldn’t really care what a non-nerd thought.
Jayson Kretzer, organizer of Creative Con, said both terms have taken on a more positive connotation in recent years.
“Geek is now a more broad and socially accepted term for anybody who really gets into something like technology, comics, gaming, cosplay or anything you can get into that a decade ago would’ve set you apart or had you viewed as socially inept,” he said. “Funny thing is that it’s basically become cool and mainstream to be a geek — computer geek, comic geek, geek girl, etc. Too bad this movement wasn’t around 15-20 years ago.”
Meanwhile, Jayson added: “ ‘Nerd’ seems to be directed at people who are acting punchy, goofy or silly, as in ‘You’re such a nerd,’ she said to me when I asked her to dance in Klingon. Both can be directed at intelligent, socially inept folks, but geek is the more positive version, in my opinion.”
I asked my Facebook friends (some of whom I actually know in the “real” world) what they thought the difference was, and whether or not they self-identified as either one. Here are a few responses (you can see more of them in the online version of this column at PanamaCity.com):
Brian: "Nerd=book learning. Geek=passionate about a non-mainstream subject."
Anthony (who tends to be an outlier on the Bell Curve): "Geeks bite the heads off chickens. Nerds are candy. I identify myself as a Starfleet Jedi mugician (musician+magician) driving a Delorian-shaped Tardis. I’m also a writer."
Kathy: "To me, a nerd is a book smart, computer savvy person, and a geek is someone who just does not fit in to what people see as the social mores. I happen to like both nerds and geeks. I may be one, except the computer savvy part!"
James: "There is no real difference. Both are smart, both like games and comics. I think nerd used to refer to someone that studied and got good grades. Today it seems that both terms have merged into the super geeky nerd title and are now all-powerful within the fantasy realm. People are and should be proud of who they are. When I was younger, being called a nerd or geek was pretty degrading, but now I’m proud to be called one."
Renee: "I always think of a nerd as someone who is book smart but a bit too aloof to connect with mainstream. A geek on the other hand is really excited about knowledge, but is able to plug it into context and have fun with it. Or something like that. Nerds are boring; geeks are cool. I think I have a geeky streak."
Mark: "I think the basic difference is that geeks tend to be fans of a subject or a thing while nerds tend to be more practitioners of the thing they’re interested in. … I feel like those terms have, at least in common usage, lost a great deal of their differentiation. But if we were to go with them being different, and in the way that I have described above, I’d say that I’m a geek that’s trying to turn himself into a nerd."
Dustin: "I see nerds as people like me, who are into video games, comic books and action figures, and get excited by their fandom. A nerd’s fandom holds no bounds. Society used to make fun of them, but oddly enough, all those nerdy things suddenly became popular. When I was 13, people made fun of me for still liking Batman. Now at 27, liking Batman usually gets me more friends, so it is now considered cool to be a nerd.
" …Geeks, on the other hand, I associate with them being tech smart. Someone who is really good at using a computer and technology in general. There is a reason why Best Buy calls them ‘Geek Squad’ and not ‘Nerd Squad.’ I also see geeks as more science minded. So to sum up: Nerds typically have strong feelings to the things they like, and a Geek is has an expert intelligence level when it comes to technology and science.
"…And I do prefer to be called a video game nerd, action figure nerd or comic book nerd; if I fix your computer, you can then call me a geek."
Denise: "I see geeks as those who obsessively seek knowledge in narrow or singular fields. I think you can be a guitar geek, etc. My particular brand of nerdiness causes me to assign numbers to everything and quantify the oddest relationships. Red has always been three and purple is eight. I can prove that peaches are better than potato chips and have the numbers to back it up."
Chuck: "I identify as a geek with a hard side as evidenced by my job. (Tony notes: Chuck is a professional fire fighter — and my very first-ever friend.) I relish information of any type, though I have problems dumping it. My P.O. box combination from 35 years ago when I lived in Century? G J A B — see what I mean?"
Another Brian: "Potsie Webber=nerd. Farmer Ted=geek."
Another Chuck: "Geeks are obsessively knowledgeable about particular topics. Nerds are socially-awkward knowledge mavens. They are not mutually exclusive. But I self-identify as both."
Some will never accept a label, of course. Call me what you will. Particularly nerdy geeks might even know what I reference when I say, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”