The dictionary defines both in stark terms:
An unfashionable or socially inept person. A knowledgeable or obsessive enthusiast: a computer geek. (Geekdom, geeky, geekier, geekiest)
A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skill or is boringly studious: I was a computer nerd until I discovered girls and cars. (Nerdish, nerdishness, nerdy, nerdier, nerdiest)
Not the most flattering nouns used to describe a person or group of like-minded individuals, I'm sure you'll agree. The question is which are you? And let's face it you probably are, you just won't admit it.
The term nerd, meaning 'square', appears to go back to the early 1950s. A decade later it took on connotations of bookishness, coloured with social ineptitude. Another theory has this insulting noun coming from the word 'drunk', reversed to 'knurd' to describe someone who doesn't drink at parties.
The media has provided the world with the archetypal nerd image of a young overweight or under nourished man, wearing thick glasses, with tape sticking them together, and rather formal, unfashionable clothes.
Alternatively, a geek is a person who is fascinated, perhaps obsessively, by very specific areas of knowledge and imagination, probably of a cultish or erudite nature. Geeks are often seen as having almost encyclopaedic knowledge of random trivia, often obscure in the extreme and are frequently associated with technology, especially computing and new media.
Often devoted to something that places them outside of the mainstream, geeks have been associated with subjects as far ranging as ham radio and linguistics to Star Trek and Tolkien. Probably the most offensive definition of a geek originates from the 19th century, specifically as a description for a carnival performer who swallows live animals and bites the heads off poultry as a form of entertainment.
Both terms conjure images of weak and frequently bullied individuals, who are of either exceptional intelligence and/or having limited social skills. Pundits and observers often attempt to merge the terms together or try and elevate ones' status above the other.
These days many identify themselves as either geeks or nerds and websites exist which celebrate Geekdom or Nerd culture. Some even postulate that within the last decade the nerds have reaped their revenge and have 'inherited the Earth'.
Back to the $100 question, which are you? Nerd or geek? Vehemently against being labelled as either? Or proud to be described by one, or even both terms?
My thought is that it is time to invent a fresh term for this new technological age; one which embraces the good points to both of these frequently flogged nouns, finally laying aside all those negative connotations.
Ladies and gentlemen meet the Neek!
An intelligent individualist attracted to technological issues. A person who is very knowledgeable with regard to one or more particular subject(s), often to the detriment of other aspects of their life. (Neekish, Neeky, Neekier, Neekiest)
Please send in your comments on this extremely serious issue, stating which term best describes you and why. We can then perform lots of pointless statistics, repackage them, and present the results as a funky bar chart or something equally futile.