Nerds and Freaks and Geeks, oh my!

5 08 2008

Today was the first day of school, and as I was hearing my new student’s presentations, one of them confessed that she ran away form her former high school because she was surrounded by freaks, and geeks. Being a proud and out geek myself, I started a wee argument on the issue… Apparently, being a geek is seen as a bad thing nowadays.

So, just for clarity’s sake, I visited reference. com, and looked up all those terms that are used to refer to the intellectually inclined. Since that first search did not conform to my hypothesis, I tried wikipedia. Here, the definition was broader, and though it did mention the word’s negative connotation, it included the more mainstream, popular definition of the term.

It’s funny how meanings evolve. I’m ill equipped to talk about epistemiology (I’ll channel Tolkien whenever i want to talk about that), but I want to think I can at least deal with evolution. The term geeks, as the term gay , or queer has had it’s original meaning changed by the same community it describes.FYI, I’m not equating being geek oto being gay. This is just an excercise on the evolution of language. You can stop ranting now.

The term gay, meaning “happy, carefree, festive”,  once so inoffensive as to be used in a disney cartoon, has been used by the homosexual community to define themselves since at least the 1920’s, but it only became mainstream a few years ago. Now it’s used as some sort of badge of honor, cause of pride, and is also the P.C. way to refer to those who love members of the same gender.

The term geek has followed the same path, I think, from being used as a reference to circus workers, and later a way to design those who are socially inept, generally disheveled and technophiles.

Today, the term geek is used inside the community as a badge of honor. It means that you have accumulated enough arcane knowledge in an obscure field, and that you have the nerve to apply this arcane knowledge to everyday life. It no longer means “socially inept”, since geeks are highly functional among their kind.

We are actually a very interesting and fun crowd to be around of. The trick is to be in on the joke.

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2 responses

7 08 2008
Agersomnia

Indeed… the broad definition of “geek” is so wide…

It originally referred to the carnival performers whose act consisted of biting the heads off chickens and eating glass. Looks like it came to be applied to anyone who got paid to do work considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society. Now it’s all the tech and science stuff that others dislike or find themselves unable to understand.

Both Random House and American Heritage dictionaries give it a pejorative sense to the word, but at least the Random House says in the second entry for the word that if self-applied it has more a prideful sense to it.

The funnier dictionary, anyway, was the Urban Dictionary (urbandictionary dot com). It includes as the first meaning of the word: “The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult “. The fifth entry is the one worth a look, tough. It includes the differences between a normie, a nerd, a dork and a geek.

Also, according to the Wikipedia project on Nerds, depending on where you are geek or nerd might be the less derogatory term. I believe that applies not only to the USA, but also here, where sometimes it’s better one word than the other.

12 08 2008
STeve

A good brief linguistic analogy.

Kids need to know that life is about finding what YOU are passionate about and living it to the full. It is not about trying to hang with people who seem to be of the acceptable cool factor that you have.

It’s hard for kids to see at that point in their lives, but if they don’t get told by someone who is living life passionately, they may never figure it out.

At this point in the year, I’m sure the kids seem really shallow, but don’t give up on them. Keep your standards high and expect them to succeed. They will live up to the minimum of what you think they can do.

OK – I need to stop. I’m not a teacher, you are. I just pray that this year is one of encouragement for you and that your gifts will have a chance to shine and make a difference in this world.

Take care,

STeve

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