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Dork / Geek / Nerd [Jun. 4th, 2008|01:15 am]
In lieu of an actual post, I'm just going to own a post-length comment I wrote in response to a historian friend who asked (after using a historical action figure as a prop in class): "Am I a nerd? Be honest. I can take it."

My response: Duh! *rolls eyes*

Though it really depends on exactly which definition of the term you're using.

Being popular slang, there's a lot of variation in how people use the terms, but there's a general consensus that the terms refer to various combinations of three traits: high-level intelligence/expertise, uncoolness, and social ineptness.

In my book, a geek is somebody who's a serious aficionado of something. Not just interested in their chosen subject, but a domain expert, with extensive and specialized knowledge and skills. A baseball fan will go to all the home games, while a baseball geek is the guy who can quote hundreds of stats at you.

Some people use 'dork' to refer to social ineptness and a general aura of uncool, and 'nerd' to mean someone who is both a geek and a dork. But I feel like 'nerdy' is the term that really encompasses social ineptness, while 'dorkitude' is the characteristic of that which has no regard for societal approval. There can be (and often is) overlap, but they're not the same thing. Hipsters, for example, have embraced the zen paradox of "dork as cool", because not caring what other people think is one of the key elements of cool, and moves you from trend-following to trend-setting.

So I run counter to most, and regard being dorky as a potentially praiseworthy term, while nerdiness is mostly derogatory. This is uncool, of course, because it means I'm at odds with society at large, but that's okay, because I own that, and more importantly, I know that I'm right. And that makes me cool again.

Having now demonstrated that I am dorktastically geeky by rambling on at length about nice and minute distinctions of meaning in terms that any normal person would fling about haphazardly and without care, I will now declare:

Dude. You're a historian. And you blog about it. Of course you're so uncool that it causes sorority girls physical pain! She was probably palming a bronchial inhaler to keep herself from going into anaphylactic shock from the allergic response. Imagine if you had actually touched her with your action figure -- she could well have exploded!

So you're a highly-skilled expert in your subject of fascination, which makes you a big ol' geek. And your geekiness is centered on a subject (history) which is not widely popular, being that it's not sports, TV, or politics, which also makes you a dork. But you're not a hot mess of social incapacity, either, so you're not a nerd.

All of which makes you an A+ mondo cool/uncool awesome freak, hooray! In my book, anyway. Woo!

[User Picture]From: bats22
2008-06-04 12:53 pm (UTC)
Of course, if you haven't pointed this one out to your friend, you might want to mention Cat and Girl's take on the issue.

And in general--yay dorkiness! (agreeing more with you point of view than C&G's).
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2008-06-04 03:51 pm (UTC)
Which action figure was it?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-06-04 04:29 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2008-06-04 04:30 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: boat_of_car
2008-06-04 04:29 pm (UTC)
I've always taken 'geek' as if the definition descended from the original term- a person who is socially marginalized and who has highly unique characteristics and/or abilities (sports geek per your example, math geek , computer geek, science geek)
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-06-04 04:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's clearly the more popular definition. I know too many well-socialized geeks to stick with it, though...
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2008-06-04 06:36 pm (UTC)
I usually take "nerd" to have an academic or theoretical focus while "geek" has an applied (though not always practical) focus. A science nerd would memorize the periodic table and explain at length why certain element combinations have certain effects, but he wouldn't need to actually demonstrate the effect. A science geek would spend his time blowing things up and mixing chemicals to watch what they do. A Star Wars nerd could explain the theoretical construction of a lightsabre; a Star Wars geek would build a lightsabre.

Scholastically, nerds usually get good grades (except in P.E.) because they want to know everything and that translates well into tests and papers. Geeks often get poor grades even in subjects which interest them because they care more about doing something interesting with the material than writing a paper about it.

At OKCupid, the dating site run by nerds, you can find out how nerdy, geeky, and dorky you are.

Edited at 2008-06-04 06:36 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-06-04 06:40 pm (UTC)
But OKCupid has gone and done something relating to dating. Doesn't that make them geeks?

(Took the test yesterday, in fact.)
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2008-06-04 06:44 pm (UTC)
Well, they're math nerds. I suppose they're dating geeks. And perhaps math geeks too. Nerd & Geek is possible; XOR is not required.

I suppose "dork" is also distinguished by its lack of subject classifiers. One doesn't generally talk about Math Dorks or Fishing Dorks.
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[User Picture]From: helava
2008-06-04 07:36 pm (UTC)
I think the difference between "dork" and "nerd/geek" is that "dork" is one side of an axis - the cool-dork axis. The opposite of both nerd/geek is either ignorance or apathy - but without as strong a 1:1 correlation.

I don't think that cool/dork are about having no regard for societal approval. There's "Hey, look how cool I am!" cool and there's, "I just don't give a shit what you think," cool, and they can both be "cool" - it's about the quality of execution. Genuine "cool" gets societal approval - that's what deems them "cool."

Dorks, on the other hand, may really want societal approval (or they may not), but are somehow unable to make it work - I think the awkwardness is part of the traditional "dork" label. I can be obsessed about something radically out of the mainstream and not be a dork, but if I push it on someone past the point of interest/comfort and create an awkward social situation, then I've crossed over into dorkiness.

I've known a good share of people I'd classify as "dorks" who really, really want to not only be liked, but even just fit in - but they don't.

I'd say "nerd" is taking on some of the meaning you've ascribed to dorks - the lack of need for societal approval. But that's maybe because IMO, societal approval these days is about a tendency towards apathy. It's "good" to not care about stuff, and nerds actively care about stuff.

But that doesn't immediately imply the social aspect of things. I can be a comic book nerd, and it's fine even for me to engage in discussions of comic book wonkery, as long as I'm attentive enough to the social atmosphere to not create the awkwardness that accompanies dorkdom.

Now, those definitions get completely out of whack when your population changes - a crowd of comic book nerds might not be internally dorky, but they exude a strong aura of dorkiness...+1.

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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2008-06-05 01:02 am (UTC)
You're right on "geek" and "dork."

But "nerd" means "science/engineering geek."
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-06-05 03:11 am (UTC)
I would just like to say that I approve of your argument by blatant assertion.

I may even be persuaded by it, but then we would need a replacement term to cover the social ineptness angle that has significant Venn diagram overlap with these reclaimed definitions. Suggestions?
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2008-06-06 05:34 am (UTC)
"dweeb"? "spazz"? "poindexter"?

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