… or Happy Geek Pride Day!
by Joe Buonfiglio
As I write this, it is May 25, national “Geek Pride Day.” Now, woe to you who slip and call it national Nerd Pride Day; do so at your own peril. National “Nerd Day” is traditionally celebrated April 16, but in reality, ONLY because social media had extensive chatter on that day claiming it as such. For some reason, it does not appear to be as “official” as Geek Pride Day.
Which begs the question, “Why?”
Perhaps it is because within the general population, there is much confusion as to exactly what the hell the difference is between a geek and a nerd.
And what of “crossover” nerds/geeks?
Are they “Gerds”?
Should they be ostracized from the mainstream of polite society more or less than their “pure” brethren?
While most Americans care less about this than even their collective yawn about the hipster man-bun, from within the confines of Geek/Nerd culture, it is still noteworthy to recognize that all of this confuses the public with greater inducement of dumbfounded headshaking than the North Carolina General Assembly trying to figure out what bathroom transgender people should use.
Perhaps “geeks” have the more colorful of the backstories. Traveling carnival sideshows of the early 1900s would often employ and feature a “geek” performer. In a nutshell, the geek’s job was to create entertainment value for a midway audience by engaging in sickeningly strange acts of nauseating tastelessness for shock value such as biting the head off a live chicken. This unique “specialization” somehow evolved into the less-repulsive nature of today’s geeks and their pride in a given vocational or avocational focus. The word “geek” itself derives from the Low German word “geck,” meaning fool or freak.
The modern “geek” computer programmers and associate techies originally adopted that self-descriptive nomenclature to distinguish themselves as experts in that respective field. However, it expressed not just a superior skillset and knowledge base in the technology arena, but an outright passionate obsession taking it way beyond a mere job into the realm of a culture unto itself.
However, a peculiar bastardization of what it means to be “geek” has occurred in recent years as mainstream society began to usurp the geek technology-based principles. Now “to be geek” can refer to a person with any fanatical fixation with a singular focus designed to make the bearer of the geek label stand out for their distinctive passion. You can still be a coder-geek, but now also a wine-geek, a Harry Potter-geek, a foodie-geek, a car-geek a la Top Gear-head, a Team Fortress 2-geek, a fitness-geek, a book-geek, and on and on. All you need is to be obsessed about “your thing” and you’re a member of Club Geek.
Enter the Nerds.
The earliest record of the word “nerd” being used was when American writer and illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) first used the term in his children’s book, If I Ran the Zoo, originally published in 1950.
“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!”
A year after that book was published, a Newsweek magazine article is attributed with the first use of “nerd” in the way we use it today: a probably off-the-charts smart, but socially inept, wash-your-hair optional, tends to be unattractive, still thinks pocket-protectors are cool, sees the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds as the best historical-documentary ever, destined to be money-machines in spite of themselves person.
Make no mistake, nerds and geeks are both obsessively passionate about their interests. However, how that is expressed is a wholly different matter. Both may like the British TV series Doctor Who. However, where a geek will go into detail on everything from the exact shade of blue that the TARDIS is and how many stiches were in the fourth doctor’s scarf, a nerd will incorporate it into an illuminating conversation on all of sci-fi television throughout history and how it relates to modern astrophysics theory.
A geek exhibits more — shall we say — normalized social skills, although they tend to be garrulously pretentious, especially if you hit upon a topic that is in their core wheelhouse. They crave the micro-world and desire to demonstrate their knowledge of every bit of the component minutiae of their single-minded fixation.
A nerd, on the other hand, exhibits a disinterest, almost a disdain, for the small details of life … such as personal grooming or hygiene or the art of small-talk with the opposite sex or how to do laundry or how to pump gas without it spilling all over the place…. They go about things in a more macro big-picture approach on their topic of personal pursuit. Nerds are happy to talk about the direction time-travel theory is heading and why, or what must be the track evolution is taking.
Nerds can be identified by their introverted nature, particularly outside of being in their comfort zone of likeminded nerds. Geeks tend to be more extroverted, often going on and on and on about some bit of miniscule detail to just about anyone who’ll listen on a topic for which they were never asked about in the first place.
Nerds can tell if you’re “one of them” when you know and use the obscure jargon they embrace. Conversely, for the most part, geeks avoid such clique-esque references finding that as beneath them. Both camps will often talk about the same subjects, but express it in totally different manners.
Geeks find employment in many sectors; as long as they can spout off about what and ALL they know, they’re happy. Sure, it might be in IT, but could easily be in game design or art or bartending. As long as there’s someone at the office willing to listen to them drone on, they’re good.
Nerds are engineers and rocket scientists and, occasionally, tech guys. Period. They only hang out with other engineers, rocket scientists and, occasionally, tech guys.
Geeks can find love with anyone … as long as that “anyone” likes listening to them talk incessantly about whatever they’re into at the moment.
A nerd’s only hope of finding love is with another nerd. That significant other MUST have tape holding together both halves of their broken eyeglasses, too, or it just won’t work in the bedroom … or the kitchen … or the living room when Neil deGrasse Tyson is on TV.
To make matters worse, an intellectual interbreeding of late has rendered the unthinkable: The rise of the GERD (not to be confused with gastroesophageal reflux disease or slang for “Graduate, Earn, Retire, Die”) , or the better-known NEEK depending on which base of cerebral DNA you lean toward. This bizarre amalgam of geeks and nerds leads to mindboggling muddle and philosophic pandemonium.
More and more, the detail-oriented craft-beer enthusiast astronautical engineer and the Bordeaux aficionado web-designer motivational speaker are emerging from the womb of Mother Misfit, a product of an unholy metaphoric fornication; defying classification, evolving into a new species unto itself.
It is the arrival of something novel: the introverted extrovert; the extroverted introvert.
So as we celebrate this Geek Pride Day, remember this: your son or your daughter could be dating — procreating with — one of these new animals at this very moment.
The geek foot soldiers lying down with nerd locals, thus creating a secret Army of the Neeks.
The only hope for humanity?
Travel back in time to kill Dr. Seuss.
Ironically, it will take an Army of Neeks to figure out how to do that.
© 2016 Joseph P. Buonfiglio All Rights Reserved.