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Geeks vs. Nerds 31

GUNTHER asks: "I've always wondered what the difference is between a "Geek" and a "Nerd." I think of a geek as one who is interested in sci-fi, computers, role-playing, anime, and the like. I think of a nerd as one who is interested in math, physics, and technology. I consider myself much more of a nerd than a geek. I've done a bit of searching on the net for the difference and everyone seems to have a different opinion. Some say that nerds are just social outcasts. Some say that geeks are just arty nerds. Slashdot is "News for Nerds" but most people here seem to refer to themselves as geeks. What do you think, is there a difference between the terms? Which do you prefer (if you prefer either)?"
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Geeks vs. Nerds

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  • Well the mainstream took all the honor out of "hacker", associating it with the destructive, and sometimes formulaic clueless.

    I don't like geek, as it does have old, and rather disparging meanings. Nerd seems to have a more honorable history, one (likey wrong) story is that it started out as Knurd, or drunK reversed, and was used to reffer to those that would rather study than party.

    Anyhow when it came time to name our team, the challenge was coming up with a good bacronym...
  • Yeah, geeks are MUCH more specialized than nerds.

  • A geek is a nerd with social skills!

  • I think the two terms are basically interchangeable, with nerd having fallen out of heavy use. It seems, though this is of course just my perception of it, that nerd used to refer to a math/computers/physics/etc. type of person, who is more into those pursuits than he/she is into socializing. Even in it's most perjorative use, it implies intelligence. Geek used to, it seems, refer to people who lacked social skills, but don't compensate with technical skills or intelligence. Now the meaning has sort of turned around. I've always considered myself a nerd, but I guess I'd fit into the geek category nowadays. Too bad, I like how the word "nerd" sounds, has a better ring to it I think.
  • Slashdot already had this [slashdot.org], but nothing wrong with revisiting a topic...
  • Whenever my friends have talked about 'Geek vs Nerd' a few people always say:
    "A nerd is someone who is involved with science, technology, and computers, but a geek
    likes them."
    Since you're here, reading this, you are probably a geek. After all, you seem to like sci/tech/comp. BTW, under this scheme, geek is a sub-set of nerd.

    Louis Wu

    "Where do you want to go ...

  • You may want to try GeekCode [geekcode.com].
  • We wish ;-)

    A wealthy eccentric who marches to the beat of a different drum. But you may call me "Noodle Noggin."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sometimes you may hear people saying that "I'm proud to be a .... geek!"... computer geek, coding geek, physics geek, guitar geek, math geek (mathhead too). But you hardly hear people say they are "proud to be a nerd"

    Geek is "self-made"... people specifically made themselves to be a computer/physics geek because of their interest. And they adopt certain styles of clothing and ways of speaking. But nerd is what they "born" with it. It's part of their personality. Both terms are always related to science, technology and arts. But never apply to economics and business...

    How does this sound... Economics Geek? Kind of weird, right?

  • I'm going partially by experience of just having gone through highschool (as a nerd, thank you very much), and partially by what I've learned from Saved by the Bell (and don't tell me you haven't learned anything from that show!)

    Nerds and Geeks may both have similar interests (i.e. computing, star trek, physics, etc), however a Geek is someone who is socially inept. Geek's tend to have poor interpersonal skills, which makes it very hard for them to have a social life. Nerds, on the other hand, are quite social creatures and tend to have friends in the nerd kingdom and in the non-nerd kingdom as well. Geeks tend to be loners, or have few friends. Nerds can be the life of the party, although it is rare.

    Example: Nerd
    • Screech, from Saved by the Bell: He had a girlfriend, had the most popular guy in school as his best friend, and maintained stellar grades.

    Example: Geek
    • Lisa Simpson, from the Simpsons: Sad but true, Lisa is a geek. She really doesn't have that many friends and has trouble relating to people her age. She is often alone playing her sax or reading.


  • They used to be different, and you will still find a lot of people claiming that they still are. IMHO they are now interchangable; use whatever you think sounds better.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Saturday August 19, 2000 @12:06AM (#843952) Homepage
    A geek bites the heads off of chickens, a nerd looks like a chicken.
  • Actually, i see it as the exact opposite.

    The connotation of `nerd,' etemologically, has ALWAYS been that of "an outcast," a person who doesn't fit in because of their brains/mannerisms.

    the original connotation of geek was a carnie guy who ate the heads of bats, chicken, and other small mammals & birds, much like some death metal bands we all know about.

    however, seeing as how those kinds of things don't happen, geek has been redefined.

    i take geek as a compliment. i call myself geek. women can call me geek when they smile at me after i fix their computer. geeks know what they're doing with (insert subject of interest here), but they also have some amount of social ability that varies from geek to geek.

    at least, that's how i see it.
  • A geek is someone with heavy interest in a specific field. There are band geeks, computer geeks, unix geeks, etc. Geek by itself connotes a technical field (unix, networking, computer).

    Nerd is a geek, but none of the socially redeeming properties.

    Geek can be a compliment, but nerd is immediately an insult. Usage of geek is similar to nigger. Only people who it applies to can call someone one. Geeks can call other people geeks without problem, but someone who's not a geek calls someone a geek, its an insult.
  • I'd consider myself a geek by all means, cause I got what all the sweeties need.

    I keep a list of all the honey's in my palm db, so I can quickly generate reports of my most likely opportunities every night.

    They like it when I tell them how long I can stay up (33 days so far... Take that ms, err viagra)

    I just have to be careful when talking about open source (they keep thinking I'm talking about "open sores"...)
  • I've never been so insulted in my life! How DARE you call me two-legged! Oh, wait...
  • this is etymologically [dictionary.com] correct.

  • A geek is a circus act based on eating anything at all. (see the enigma from the now-defunct Jim Rose Circus Crew) I'd rather be a nerd, personnaly. no rocks for me. i'm full.
  • A nerd is someone whose life revolves around computers and technology.

    And a geek is someone whose life revolves around computers and technology, and likes it.

    These opinions are my own and not necessarily
  • In my youth, "geek" and "nerd" meant the same thing. I imagine it was much the same everywhere. If you got good grades, and liked getting good grades, AND people didn't like you too much, you were a nerd. AND a geek. I was called both, not to mention a fair spread of other not nice things.

    Then in the 90s something happened. Perhaps as we got older, and certain new fields of knowledge grew, a distinction began to be made. At once, humanities enthusiasts were called "nerds", and technology enthusiasts began to be called "geeks".

    Now, what happened, and no one denies it, is that the "geeks" began to become more important than the "nerds". Computers were an expanding world, and were encroaching ever faster into every professional and personal arena. Consequently, geeks got good-paying jobs. So, not only did geeks begin to get a lot of money, but they also started working with other geeks. As a result, they were able to bond. And they were able to do the things they secretly wanted to do -- buy cool cars, get nice clothes, hang out with lots of friends, go out to places in groups. In short, they began to feel successful, and most importantly, desirable.

    For the most part, the nerds didn't care. They enjoyed doing what they were doing. It hurt to think that they had missed out on The Big Secret -- but they were still happy doing what they were already doing. Some became geekish in limited extents.

    But what happened between geeks and nerds is that the geeks started to feel popular. They realized that they had broken the social glass ceiling (even if only due to some coincidental and uncertain shifts in modern industry). And a peculiar thing happened to geeks, as happens to all those who become popular: they needed someone to pick on. And that group was the nerds. And the term "geek" became owned by that community, and was lifted, at least among themselves, as a title of triumph; of superiority in power and significance, and success. And "nerd" became a sign of past sorrow and failure, of the pathetic creatures "we once were", before the world decided to make them (the geeks) feel important.

    Nerds are the ones who are unpopular. Nerds are the ones who no one likes, and who talk about things no one else cares about. Nerds are the ones who aren't making all the money. They're the ones that missed the boat and fell behind. No one today, not even geeks, would be willing to call themselves a "nerd", but "geek" is a badge of pride.

    Nerds are now the estranged old friends of the geeks. The geeks look down on them, as if they can no longer understand their way of life. They say, if only you had gone this way or that way. If only you could bring yourself up. If only you could be more like us. Despite the fact that we simply just got lucky.

    I'm a nerd/geek.

  • Actually, the wife of my friend would fall into (and gleefully call herself) an Economics Geek...
  • This thread seems particularly interesting, given that "Gunther," myself, and several other people living in Louisville, Kentucky [but not for much longer! yay, out-of-state-universities! um, anyway] appear to hold practically the opposite opinion from that held by most Slashdotters.

    I think I've always more or less agreed with Ryan's definition of nerd and geek. That is, nerds like computers, math, physics, and generally knowing how things work and fit together; geeks like role-playing, anime, and science fiction. I would consider myself a nerd; I would probably be vaguely offended if someone called me a geek, although there doesn't seem to be an agreed-upon definition... It would be much simpler if we would all agree that "geek" means "one who bites the heads off chickens."

    I wonder if the definitions of "nerd" and "geek" vary from one locality to another; if not, then there must be some isolated pocket of weirdness surrounding Louisville - or certain parts thereof - in which the definitions are generally assumed to be reversed. Since it is not unknown for things in Kentucky to be backward, I suppose that is a distinct possibility ;-).

    It appears that many people agree that a nerd is singlemindedly focused on one thing. That is almost exactly the opposite of what I would have said. I usually think of a nerd as someone with a wide variety of interests.

    There also seems to be some debate over whether it is more socially acceptable to be a nerd or a geek, although the general consensus on Slashdot appears to be that geeks are more socially acceptable. I would have thought nerds are more socially acceptable, although geeks may be very acceptable within their own circles... On the other hand, perhaps being a geek (by Ryan's definition) does involve more inherently social actions (role-playing, watching anime) than being a nerd. That is one thing that comes to mind.... nerds do not necessarily do nerdy things when they're together. Writing code for some numerical or scientific task, for instance, is not a thing that many people would consider a fun group activity. Still, I don't think nerds are socially limited as some of the quotes indicate. I consider myself a nerd, and I have some vague semblance of a social life.... At least, I have a girlfriend.

    Also, I wouldn't limit "nerdness" ("nerddom?") to interest in math, physics, or technology. I think there can be history nerds, literature nerds... although I think other sorts of nerds seem to be less willing to have the term "nerd" applied to them. In general, though, I would characterize most nerds as having an interest in more than one field... It seems like the Jargon file has some sort of description of hackers as being unusually knowledgeable about subjects outside of computing. That would seem to be a general characteristic of nerds, to me.

    In short, I would consider myself and most of my friends nerds but not geeks. And I don't consider "nerd" an insulting term... Given that Slashdot is "News for Nerds," it would appear that at least a few people agree with me on that point.
  • that depends on what you mean by 'successful,' to some, managing is not fun and being the alpha-geek is, in order to make a lot of money (if that is your metric) the geek need only be a good at arguing salary, not necessarly managing.
  • I consider a nerd to be an intellectual that has many fields of interest, a renaissance man. But a geek is an intellectual that focuses on a very narrow field, a specialist. When comparing the ability of a geek and a nerd of similar intelligence, the geek would far exceede the nerd in his chosen field, while the nerd would wave a far wider range not quite so exceptional abilities. In general both tend to be social outcasts of one form or another, be it through his/her rejection by society or by his/her rejection of society. I classify myself as a nerd. nadaka
  • Boys, boys! Speaking as one who has done time with both species (and am currently living with a geek), I feel quite qualified to answer the question. Both creatures are extraordinarily intelligent (very sexy), able to discuss nearly any topic (hot), and both have excellent earning potential (sexist, I know, sorry). However, there are two very important differences between geeks and nerds: Both are aware of their social ineptness and lack of skills with women, but only geeks will do something about it (you know, the Kama Sutra, The Joy of Sex, The Top Ten Lines That Will Get Her Into Your Bed, etc.); while the nerd wallows in the abstract question of "What does "relationship" really mean, anyway. I mean, can you really know another person?" And then he will shake his head and move on to more important topics like his next manifesto. But, perhaps, the most significant difference that I have noticed between them is that geeks have a sense of humor, although usually quite twisted (sizzling! Is it hot in here or is it just me? Honey, could you come here for a minute, okay, 30 minutes, no wait, an hour's good.), and nerds do not.
  • I was a biochemist, and while working in QA for a large pharmaceutical company, I started programming. I left that job to program full-time and have not done a lick of chemistry since. I often joke that I got tired of being a nerd and decided to become a geek instead.
  • nerd n.

    1. [mainstream slang] Pejorative applied to anyone with an above-average IQ and few gifts at small talk and ordinary social rituals.
    2. [jargon] Term of praise applied (in conscious ironic reference to sense 1) to someone who knows what's really important and interesting and doesn't care to be distracted by trivial chatter and silly status games. Compare the two senses of computer geek.

    The word itself appears to derive from the lines "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo / And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, / A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!" in the Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Zoo" (1950). (The spellings `nurd' and `gnurd' also used to be current at MIT.) How it developed its mainstream meaning is unclear, but sense 1 seems to have entered mass culture in the early 1970s (there are reports that in the mid-1960s it meant roughly "annoying misfit" without the connotation of intelligence).

    An IEEE Spectrum article (4/95, page 16) once derived `nerd' in its variant form `knurd' from the word `drunk' backwards, but this bears all the hallmarks of a bogus folk etymology.

    Hackers developed sense 2 in self-defense perhaps ten years later, and some actually wear "Nerd Pride" buttons, only half as a joke. At MIT one can find not only buttons but (what else?) pocket protectors bearing the slogan and the MIT seal.

    computer geek n.

    1. One who eats (computer) bugs for a living. One who fulfills all the dreariest negative stereotypes about hackers: an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. Cannot be used by outsiders without implied insult to all hackers; compare black-on-black vs. white-on-black usage of `nigger'. A computer geek may be either a fundamentally clueless individual or a proto-hacker in larval stage. Also called `turbo nerd', `turbo geek'. See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee, terminal junkie, spod, weenie.
    2. Some self-described computer geeks use this term in a positive sense and protest sense 1 (this seems to have been a post-1990 development). For one such argument, see http://samsara.circus.com/~omni/geek.html [circus.com]. See also geek code.

  • Earlier today I posted something that any geek or nerd would get. View this article at -1 and search for my name or the subject line: 'TMBG', as in They Might Be Giants. If you've seen them in concert, you'll know wtf I'm talking about. If you haven't then you may not get the whole joke. That's my guess at least...
  • Lisa is not a "geek." Lisa is a bitch.
  • Up here at the U of A [ualberta.ca], in the Undergraduate Association of Computing Science [ualberta.ca], we've had this discussion before. Basically, we decided that nerds and geeks were independent definitions, and do not require the person to like computers to belong to either group. The biggest difference being someone who is a geek is more socially active, both amongst fellow geeks and non-geeks, whereas nerds are the stereotypical loners. Some other stuff came out of the conversation, such as the agreement that being called a geek is a compliment, while a nerd is somewhat derogitory (at least for us socially active geeks :P). We were also able to identify geeks we knew who had no interest in computers (i.e. some anime fans we know), as well as nerds (some people in Math). Really though, definitions tend to vary depending on the circles you belong to. On IRC, I've talked to people who fit what I'd call a geek referring to themselves as nerds, sooooo ....
  • When I began my career in grade school, I was one of the "popular" kids. (Yeah, Yeah I know, in 2nd grade, 'popular' doesn't mean much, but hear me out) After 2nd grade something happened to me, the Atari 2600. I spend that entire summer in my living room playing Yar's Revenge, Combat, Haunted House, Combat, Kangaroo, Donkey Kong, and the like. I gained fair bit of weight. My mother used to call it my AB (Atari Belly). At the end of that summer, I started 3rd grade. In my former school district 3rd grade is where the "Gifted" kids were separated for a few hours per week and given things to do to keep them from getting bored.

    I learned to program in BASIC on a TI-99 and an Apple][e. Overnight, I was a nerd. At the time, I hated being different. So, I tried to be what I thought that people expected of me, I goofed off. I got loud in class. I still got accepetable grades, but I didn't stand out. In Jr. High, I got even worse. I was the first one to get into a fight because people thought that they could pick on me because I was a nerd. One time I got into a fight, while serving 3 days of in-school suspension which I had gotten for fighting.

    It took me years to be able to wear my nerdiness/geekhood as a badge of honor instead of treating it like a curse.


Success is something I will dress for when I get there, and not until.