Nerd

November 28, 2008
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“And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Trou and bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep, and a Proo, a Nurkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!” This passage from If I Ran the Zoo (1950) is notable not just because it is a fine example of Seussian rhyme, but because it contains the first appearance of the word nerd in print. When it first appeared, nerd was a synonym for a “drip,” an “egghead,” and, according to an issue of the Scottish Sunday Mail, “a square.” Fifties parlance aside, the word nerd has always meant an intelligent, “uncool” social outcast, from its use on the television show Happy Days to the rise of Internet culture. However, this word’s meaning and accompanying stereotype has changed significantly over the years and continues to change with the English language.
Merriam-Webster defines a nerd as “an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; esp: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.” While accurate regarding the most common perception of a nerd, this definition leaves something to be desired.
I would define a nerd as an intelligent, introspective, slightly pedantic, and reserved nonconformist who is also obsessed to some degree with intellectual pastimes -- often, though not necessarily, academic and/or technological ones. Not all nerds suffer a social stigma for their “nerdy” pursuits; nor do they exclusively pursue “nerdy” pastimes. Although most likely disdainful or indifferent towards “the norm,” nerds are not automatically completely ignorant of mainstream society. In short, nerds are nonconformists.
The ubiquitous caricature of a nerd is a skinny white male with glasses, braces, unfashionable clothing (traditionally, a collared shirt complete with pocket protector and floodwaters), and an unhealthy interest in Star Trek, role-playing games, and school. Over time, certain pursuits and pastimes have become associated or disassociated with nerds. Original hallmarks of nerdity were pocket protectors and slide rules, which in later years became calculators and comic books, which in turn became advanced electronics, video games, and fantasy literature.
With the adoption of video games and the Internet into mainstream culture, the term nerd, and its traditional meaning, has also become more socially acceptable. Once the sole domain of niche web vendors such as Thinkgeek.com and J!NX, Target is now catering to the same market by carrying a shirt emblazoned with “NERD.” “Geek chic,” as it is known, has become increasingly common as corporations cash in on this fad by adding superficial “nerdy” elements, such as glasses, comic books, and video games, to fashion trends. Other markets have followed suit. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s single “White





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