Geeks and Nerds- are they now positive nouns like Boffins?

By Dyenamic Solitions - Last updated: Friday, November 23, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Are the names “geek” or “nerd” now becoming socially acceptable- even admired?Geeks and Nerds- are they now positive nouns like Boffins?It used to be implied that the person was socially awkward, even socially inferior. Now a “nerd”, or a “geek” can be a driven Machiavellian bent on success – even a Boffin- a Gordon Gekko in a hoodie.

Today when people think of “geeks” and “nerds” they might very well name the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – people whose imagination and grasp of the technical made them billions.

Historic geeks are celebrated, with Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla’s legacies provoking great passions. New York Times blogger and geeky statistician Nate Silver has been hailed as an unexpected star of the US presidential election after correctly predicting the outcome. “Memo to wannabe presidents: hire geeks, not pundits,” advises this week’s New Scientist magazine.

Singles on dating websites define themselves in their profiles as “nerds” and “geeks” – in a positive way – and there is no end of blogs listing stars like Natalie Portman as geeks or listing “nerdy power couples” (like Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter).

A slew of comedies over the past few years have had geeks as heroes, such as Tim Bisley – the comics, video game and Star Wars-obsessive of Spaced – and Sheldon Cooper, the precocious physicist of The Big Bang Theory.

Mark Zuckerberg- the Facebook creator has come to embody the rise of the nerd.

His path from computer obsessed teenager to one of the world’s most influential people was charted by Jose Antonio Vargas in the New Yorker, who meets the “same awkward person” as his public persona would suggest.

The creation of Facebook may have inspired the 2010 Oscar-winning film The Social Network. But, as the Daily Telegraph’s Melissa Whitworth suggested, Zuckerberg’s personality didn’t “come out of the process all that well”.

It’s easy to argue that “nerd” and “geek”, with their very different roots, retain different meanings, arguably with the former still more derogatory than the latter. And some see a transatlantic divide, with “geek” used in US and UK, but “nerd” somehow feeling less British.

“Nerd” now seems to denote a depth of knowledge in a particular area, while “geek” appears to have taken on the more technical overtones that “nerd” once had.

In the US, “geek” was first used in the early 1900s to refer to a carnival performer. At roughly the same time, it became a general synonym of “fool”.

By the 1950s, “geek” started referring to a person who was unsociable and freakishly devoted to something, usually intellectual. By the late 1950s, the “intellectual” connotation had solidified, and we gained the second sense below, “a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.”

In the 1980s, it was sometimes derisively applied to people who had deep knowledge of computers or related technology.

The classic current use of “geek” as a self-description is typically accompanied by something else – “stats geek”, “physics geek”, “history geek” and even “cocktail geek” all being standard usages.

Surely the apotheosis for those dubbed “geek” came with world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee being cheered at the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

So as more and more people become enthusiasts, traditional “nerd” and “geek” interests – Star Trek, comic books, anime, video games – are moving into the mainstream. The record for biggest US movie opening weekend is held by a movie based on comics- Marvel’s- The Avengers.

Some of those who call themselves as nerds and geeks look back nostalgically on the time their status actually felt rebellious, says Benjamin Nugent, author of American Nerd: The Story of My People. “This didn’t come until the late 1980s and 1990s with Hollywood depictions of hackers taking on nefarious government corporations. They were turning into outlaws – pallid versions of Jesse James.”

With the nerds and geeks now becoming richer and emulated by teenagers the wheel seems to have come full circle with the terms becoming envied and lauded. Times they are a changing indeed.

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