Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Nerds versus geeks
Ask Yahoo recently had a post titled "What's the difference between a nerd, a geek, and a dork?. Their definitions of nerd and geek are pretty consistent with the ones I've become used to since living in the SF Bay Area, but they aren't consistent with the way these terms were used when I was growing up.
In my high school a geek was someone who was unpopular while a nerd was someone who was unpopular but smart. I remember when I first started reading Slashdot, shortly after I moved to the Bay Area, I was really surprised at their use of the word "geek". "Geeks don't know how to use computers", I thought, "they're too busy learning to speak Klingon or memorizing the names of Star Wars characters". Sure, there are certain things that both geeks and nerds tend to be interested in, like science fiction, comic books and role playing games, but nerds are the ones who know how to do "useful" things. I became even more surprised when I learned that many slashdotters seemed to use an inverted set of definitions for geek and nerd.
Pundits and observers dispute the relationship of the terms "nerd" and "geek" to one another. Some view the geek as a less technically skilled nerd. Others view the exact opposite.
They also reference an excellent Cat and Girl comic which, incidentally, defines nerd and geek in a way that's consistent with the definitions I grew up with.
It sounds like the definitions of these two terms are regional. The Wikipedia page suggests that this may be an east-coast versus west-coast thing: on the east coast people think nerds are smart, while on the west coast people think geeks are smart. That's certainly consistent with my experience, as I grew up in Ontario. It would be interesting if someone made a map-poll like the Pop vs. Soda Page. LazyWeb, don't fail me now!