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Fortunately for most of us here, this Salon column claims that geek chic has survived the popping of the dot-com bubble. Though I'll confess I'm a bit disturbed at how cavalierly the author runs roughshod over the subtle differences of meaning between "geek," "nerd," and "dork." "Geek," after all, has a noble provenance: It referred to circus freaks who bit the heads off chickens. The origin of "nerd" is less clear, but it may have come from Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo, which is also pretty cool, though the term is more apt than "geek" to connote social awkwardness (rather than merely an overdeveloped interest in tech or music or what have you). Dork, on the other hand, is just one more word derived from that organ of a thousand names, the penis, and (as with most such terms) indicates obnoxiousness more than anything else. (Bilingual trivia: Penile slang is mostly negative in English. In Spanish, it's more positive—e.g. "cojonudo"—while the negative term "coniazo" is derived from a term for "vagina".)

Anyway, speaking of geekery: I have to confess that I think this is really cool.

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  1. So Ozzy Osbourne is a modern-day geek?

  2. The provenance you assert for “Geek” is disabused by the same Wordorigins database that you cite in defining “Dork.”

  3. Well, not really. That database just notes that the carnival-sense is itself derived from an earlier one. Our contemporary usage of geek still comes most directly from the carnival term.

  4. And “cojonudo” is not exactly penile slang — it’s testicular. It’s part of the same package, but not precisely referential to the so-called organ of a thousand names.

    Moreover, the English translation of cojonudo — “ballsy” or “gutsy” — is positive rather than negative as a descriptor.

  5. Actually, contemporary usage is more likely to come in the context cited by Wordorigins: fool, simpleton, dupe from the low German/Dutch “geck.”

    When the neighbor kids call me a “geek,” I suspect it’s because they think me a fool rather than a chicken-biter.

    But I could be wrong.

  6. Excuse me, can somewhere please tell me where this magical land where tolerance for “geeks” exists. At least here in Cheeseland anyone who has been classified a “geek” is still considered to be a social piriah. Take me for instance: I openly read sci-fi novels, I build plastic model kits, I play role-playing and miniature wargames, my all-time favorite sci-fi TV shows are Babylon 5 and MST3K. Where are the scores of women who think I’m sexy and the job offers from Fortune 500 companies? The only thing I get is told to “get a life.”

    Or do I need a PhD in computer science to be consider part of the “geek chic?”

  7. I don’t claim any special etymological expertise here, but the contemporary usage of “geek” usually indicates that someone is a kind of social freak, not a “fool”. Hell, “geek” usually connotes higher-than-average intelligence.

    And re: “cojonudo”, I know, but I figured that it was (ahem) in the ballpark.

  8. Fair enough.

  9. Dude, Mark S… you should move to one of the coasts…

    I’ve got about 80% overlap with you (strike the model kit building, but I can add in anime, homebrewing and former SCAdianism) and I’m having a fantastic time among our people in downtown Philadelphia.

  10. Julian thinks registering for the New York Times is cool? What a dork!

  11. Correction:

    The correct term for those want superheroes at their parties is “weenie.”

    Thank You. And SHAZAM!

  12. I am a geek stereotype, in my teen years I not only watched Star Trek and played Dungeons and Dragons, but I actually thought these things were cool. I never went to a prom because I never dated (I was no uglier than the next guy, just repulsive to women).

    These days I’m into Home Brew beer, and reading about show’s I’d never watch at Am I still a geek? I’m asking because I don’t know. Being a middle-aged geek is kind of redundant isn’t it. (Then again I’m also into; soap bubbles, juggling, and renaissance fairs. Is being a middle-aged uber-geek extra pathetic? Again I’m asking.)

    The word that’s missing from this discussion is ‘outcast’. Geek-chic is an oxy-moron from where I sit. However you define dork or dweeb, if they’re accepted socially then they aren’t one of ‘us’. What defines the outcast is his inability to socialize no matter what the reason. Growing up this was a source of endless agony for me. These days I’ve made a truce if not exactly a peace with my social status. Still, every time some kid shows up at school with two semi-automatics and a shotgun, and blows away half his class, I’m like “I hear ya”.

  13. Alternatively, one could use the definitions proposed by Dorothy Gambrel in this classic Cat and Girl episode.

  14. Mark S.,

    Whether or not you can claim “geek chic” is wholly dependent on whether you like the early MST3K or late MST3K. Julian Sanchez, I would point, was really into MST3K before it got popular and then he got sick of it.

  15. Brendan,
    Everybody knows MST3K jumped the shark when Joel left the show.

    I posted prior to reading yours. Your homebrew reference confirms my suspicion that anything I think is cool is therefore by definition, not.

  16. I’ve always thought that geeks were more the Dungeons and Dragons/AV club types, and nerds the chess team type. Dorks are geeks too large to be picked on much, outcast, but not agressively so, which makes them less prone to geeky behavior.

  17. It ain’t what you do, it’s the why-for you do it and that’s what makes a geek.

  18. How to tell them apart:

    At the Star Trek Convention, the Geeks wear blue tunics and emulate Spock, the Nerds wear tan tunics and emulate Sulu, the Dorks wear red and emulate Scotty, and they all wish they were cool enough to wear that special V-neck model like Kirk.

  19. My kids are pretty much ostracized here in our semi-rural ‘hood as geeks and nerds because they play Warhammer and Yu-Gi-Oh, while the dominant male 13-year-olds run around in sports Jerseys and sweat a lot.

    I have lost track of the number of times that my kids have tried to explain the rules of their games to me, leaving me babbling on the floor in incomprehension and amazed that they can absorb, process and regurgitate this amount of information. I can better understand an outside jumpshot and a forward pass, but I really don’t like the smell of sweaty male 13-year-olds.

    My consolation is that there will be many more career opportunities for my kids in absorbing, processing and regurgitating information, than in hurling a round piece of rubber through an iron ring.

  20. I’m with Warren. After Joel left it went downhill in a hurry. I haven’t watched MST3K regularly since the old Comedy Central days. Wait, home-brewing isn’t cool. Damn! I thought anything involving alcohol, drugs and tobacco was by default cool (ATF/DEA out, LP in). I guess that only applies to the years when it’s illicit to drink/smoke.

    Here’s how I always saw the geek/nerd/dork grouping (I was a nerd). I think it’s different for everyone.

    nerd – Smart kids, but not the over-achievers. Generally, they were good at science and math, less so in the humanities. Enjoyed reading for reading’s sake and were the sci-fi fans. RPGs, computer usage (I’m talking the 80s to early 90s era of BBSes) and late nights playing Risk are also part of the nerd’s arsenal.

    geek – AKA freaks. This is where the goths, band and drama members and other assorted wierdos are classified. There is some overlap with nerds here, though the geeks tended to be less intellectually inclined than the nerds.

    dork – This was sort of like the freelance geek. The geeks usually had some sort of group identity, while the dorks were your run-of-the-mill “wierdos.”

    Maybe I was wrong all these years, but that’s how the classification went at my school.

  21. And where do the dweebs fit into all of this?

  22. Dweebs don’t fit in. That’s the whole point.

  23. The dweebs blog

  24. The phenomenon of geek chic isn?t so much about geeks now being socially accepted as it is about it being socially acceptable to like things that used to brand one as a geek. Some geeks, free from the stigma previously attached to their interests, can achieve social acceptance ? some are still held back by the personality that led them to their outsider pursuits. What matters is that when the rest of society moves onto the next fad, we’ll still be tinkering with computers, reading Tolkien, watching anime, and staying home on Friday nights.

  25. Anyone – myself included who regularly comments on H&R probalbly qualifies and a geek, nerd, and/or dork.

    The truly ironic thing though is how many of tghe definitions offered are great descriptions of the LP in American politics.

  26. nm156,
    Mystery Science Theater 3000, an excellent TV show. Matt XIV nails it.


  27. “I’m with Warren.”

    Better be careful, he might frag you if you give him a hard time.

  28. Mark S:

    I feel your pain. I was a total nerd in high school, and was miserable because I didn’t embrace it. Only in college did I fully come out of the closet and gathered with others of my ilk. I’m 34 now and still very close with those college friends. Whether or not we nerds are ever accepted is irrelevant. Just be happy.

    NM156: check out MST3K on the Sci-Fi channel 9:00 AM Saturday morning (Eastern time). It is a really fun show. And I’ll go out on a limb here: I have no problem with Mike Nelson. It’s much better that he took over then the show end with Joel.

  29. Where does the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fit into all of this? Seems to me like a coming together of all the geeks, nerds, and dorks every week. Kind of like a ‘dweeb-moot’ or something.

  30. er, used to be. I don’t know why I wrote that present tense.

  31. As a MSTy since 1992, allow me to stick up for Mike. He was head writer, after all, and he kept the Midwestern chic (ahem) the show had, so yes, it was less prop-comic-y, but had funny bits, especially the host segments. I didn’t even hate new Crow after Trace left the show (and he’d had a few episodes to improve his poetry).

    Plus, tell me that Time Chasers isn’t classic MST.

  32. Keith:

    I’m here behind the Cheddar Curtain, and if I walk 3 blocks and across Bradford Beach I will get very wet if I don’t stop before entering Lake Michigan. The U.S. and Canada share a very long “North Coast*” between Duluth and Ogdenburg.

    Where am I on the geek-map? High school debater, SF/Comics fan, acted in school plays, BUT had a date for Prom and was an officer in Key Club. (Kiwanis for H.S. Practically a frat.)

    Important to remember: being in a band trumps ALL geek-points. Nobody cared that Joey Ramone or David Byrne were prime examples of outsiders. Once you are a musician, you are golden.


    “Should have learned to play that guitar.”

    *South Coast in the GWN.

  33. Okay, help this dweeb out: MST3K? Whassat?

  34. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/10/2003 12:40:36
    Unusual ideas can make enemies.

  35. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 05:40:55
    Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.

  36. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/19/2004 12:06:24
    I am a hobo in the house of the lord.

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