The views and opinions expressed in O'Keefe's Briefs(tm) are not necessarily those of The Management. In fact, they are very likely not even the views and opinions of the writer, the typeface designer, god or the President of the United States. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who shares the extraordinary worldview expressed below, and should you, run. Far and fast. The Management would also like to point out that any references or similarities to any persons living, dead, or undead are entirely coincidental since we all know there are no such things as zombies anyhow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Meditations on Geekhood and Nerdity

Hello! It's been a while. Have you missed me, my darlings? I sure have missed you. Parenthood is like hard and stuff. Anyway, enough with the apologies. I'm back with my brand new invention1.

I've been thinking about the differences between being a geek and being a nerd. I'm sure there is a Venn Diagram which would help me sort it out, but quite frankly I can't draw a circle to save my life, so forgive me for the lack of visuals.  Both terms have found their way into popular culture - from Zach Levi's Nerd Machine and Chris Hardwick's Nerdist empire to Felicia Day's Geek and Sundry and the mere existence of geek-chic. Nerds and geeks are everywhere. There is a lot of crossover here, and we're seeing what was once a marginalized sub-culture becoming assimilated into popular culture. In the 80s, these types were a laughable stereotype (at best) used for comic relief2 in our teen dramas. I think you can just look at Anthony Michael Hall's early career to see what I mean. I often find myself wondering if 'geek' and 'nerd' are even two distinct terms3 anymore.

In many ways, both terms reference a social outcast - be that due to an actual lack of social skills or eccentric personality or a combination of those and other factors. At any rate, I think 'out of the mainstream' is a good way to think of it. But what, then, happens when certain hallmarks and behaviors and even ideologies become socially acceptable or even normal4?

Is, perhaps, 'geek' a sort of substratum of 'nerd'? Vice versa? Are nerds heavily involved with video gaming while geeks are creating the technology to make it happen too? I suggest that the term 'nerd' refers to the overarching sub-culture while 'geek' represents a specific, intense interest in a subject (for example: music geek, comic book geek, film geek, etc...). The tricky question is whether it's possible to be one without falling into the other category as well. Is a fantasy football (or baseball) geek also a nerd? Can you even call that person a geek (if even behind her back)?

I'm at a loss, so I'm sure there will be more posts on this topic. Let me know what you think. That is, after all, what the comment box below is for. I promise not to dole out wedgies if I disagree.

1 - You're welcome.
2 - You will also notice a strong current of the type of anti-intellectualism which is and has long been a dark facet of American life.
3 - I am, of course, neglecting the Carny version of the term geek - which is the original usage referring to someone who bites the heads off of chickens, eats nails and glass, etc..
4 - Everyone knows Han shot first.


  1. From our Facebook Page, Jason Zipkin writes:

    "I think that to be a nerd, a high level of intelligence or an unusual interest in the academic is necessary. A nerd will often grasp difficult intellectual concepts, but struggle with the mundane. On the other hand, a geek need only have interest in things that the rest of the community find odd, childish or silly. Answeing this question so seriously (along with asking it in the first place, I would guess) is pretty nerdy."

  2. So a nerd would have broad generic knowledge, but a geek has very specific topical knowledge without excelling, necessarily, in other areas? -- Asking the question in all seriousness does not bode well for the author either! Thanks for the response.

  3. Definition of NERD
    : an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits

    Definition of GEEK
    : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
    : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
    : an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity

    It's called a 'dictionary'! who knew!<;)lolotrollio

  4. Ahh, your copy/paste skills are so well developed that we now have a good working definition of 'dork.' I know who you are and I know where you live. :)