Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Traditionally, the designation nerd (occasionally in the form nurd) applies to a very intelligent but lonely and socially awkward person, one fascinated by knowledge, especially science. Beginning in the late 1990s, many nerds on the Internet reclaimed the word nerd as a badge of pride, and began using it as a positive description of any technically competent person, with less implication or focus on social awkwardness. Dispute continues as to whether to regard nerd and geek as synonyms, or if not, as to exactly how they differ.
The philosopher Timothy Charles Paul Fuller adopted the term nerd in the mid-1960s to describe a stereotypical intelligent recluse with poor social skills, one often the butt of others' jokes. The word itself first appeared in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, where it simply names one of Seuss's many comical imaginary animals. (The narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo.) Another theory of the word's origin sees it as a version of Mortimer Snerd, the name of Edgar Bergen's ventriloquist dummy. Yet another theory traces the term to Northern Electric Research and Development, where the employees wore pocket protectors with the acronym N.E.R.D. printed on them. And yet another theory claims that nerd comes from the word "drunk" reversed to "knurd", to illustrate someone who did not drink at parties.
The stereotypical nerd image as seen in the mass media and cartoons equates to a young man wearing thick black glasses (preferably broken and taped up with electrical tape), pocket protectors, high-water pants and dress shirts or clothes generally too formal for the circumstances. Sometimes the stereotype lacks personal hygiene skills, and he will typically appear either very skinny or extremely fat. Stereotypical nerds usually lack social graces and the ability to perform social interaction, except on technical topics.
Nerds in art and literature
Dramatic depictions of good nerds typically have them as good-hearted people who wish harm on no one, but whom their obvious intellectual inferiors bully. Many nerds in fiction play roles as supporting characters who provide valuable sources of information or useful skills for the heroes. Nerds as lead characters often have a secret identity as a superhero; so a put-upon person has a wonderful secret. Nerds in supporting roles often feature as technological geniuses who invent or repair plot devices that enable the main characters to move towards a goal. They also serve as socially inept foils to much more charming main characters.
Nerds in anime often wear round white opaque glasses, with or without a spiral drawn on them. If they wear transparent glasses, they like to adjust their glasses so that they reflect light, and give an intimidating feeling. These characters usually play more important parts in the story than in western entertainment, probably due to the Japanese culture's emphasis on academic work and studies rather than on social success. (Note too that people who make anime or manga would themselves often classify as otakus or nerds.)
In the 1990s, "nerd" developed distinct positive connotations within social spheres connected to computing and the Internet, to denote with pride a technically skilled person. This also extended towards financial success in these fields, with Bill Gates himself often described as a nerd, though a remarkably wealthy one. The popular computer-news website Slashdot bills itself as "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."
Non-nerds often think of nerds as intelligent yet socially awkward people. In high school, the more "popular" or more socially adept teens often ridicule and bully those labeled as nerds, who have a reputation of engaging deeply in academic areas. Nerds generally express an above-normal interest in complex subjects and often function as polymaths. Topics dealing with computers and technology, comic books, role playing games, classical music, artificial intelligence, anime, film, science fiction and fantasy literature have become heavily associated with nerds.
Because of these tendencies, some have noticed similarities between nerdy behavior and the neurological disorder of Asperger's syndrome. Little -- aside from anecdotal evidence -- supports the nerd/Asperger connection. Whether a connection exists, and whether any such connection would depend on correlation, causation or conjecture, awaits proof, and remains merely an interesting observation.
Nerds and geeks
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. Some factions maintain that "nerds" have both technical skills and social competence, whereas "geeks" display technical skills while socially incompetent; others hold an exactly reversed view, with "geek" serving as the socially competent counterpart of the socially incompetent "nerd", and call themselves "geeks" with pride (compare Geekcorps, an organization that sends people with technical skills to Third World countries to assist in computer infrastructure development).
Some regional differences may exist in the use of the words "nerd" and "geek". Some claim that on the North American west coast the population prefers the term "geek" to "nerd", while the North American east coast prefers the word "nerd" to "geek" (see Ellen Spertus 's page on The Sexiest Geek Alive). Others on the east coast dispute this, claiming that they have always found "nerd" used disparagingly and "geek" used in a positive light. In Britain, this latter view tends to apply — "nerd" has more offensive connotations than "geek", which speakers of British English often use affectionately. Compare anorak.
The word "nerd" gained currency from the 1950s at a time when many school students did not see excelling at school as "cool". Therefore "nerd" originated as a derogatory word (although some people now consider it a compliment), while the term "geek" became widespread later (1980s) and has avoided many of the negative connotations. "Geek" as a milder version of "nerd" may also apply to socially insignificant people, while "nerd" refers more to socially inept people.
- My idea is to present an image to children that it is good to be intellectual, and not to care about the peer pressures to be anti-intellectual. I want every child to turn into a nerd - where that means someone who prefers studying and learning to competing for social dominance.
- -- Gerald Sussman, quoted by Katie Hafner, "New York Times", 1994-08-29.
The 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds explored the concept of "nerd pride" to comical effect.
An episode from the animated series Freakazoid titled "Nerdator" has a plotline that involves the use of nerds to power the mind of a Predator-like enemy, who delivers a memorable monologue on the importance of nerds:
"...what they lack in physical strength they make up in brain power. Who writes all the best selling books? Nerds. Who directs the top grossing Hollywood movies? Nerds. Who creates the highly advanced technology that only they can understand? ...Nerds. And who are the people who run for the office of the Presidency? No one but nerds."
Eventually, after having the flaws pointed out, he decides to drain the minds of good-looking but vapid airheads (but nobody cares).
Depictions in fiction and media
- Bernard Bernoulli, from the Maniac Mansion adventure game series
- Billy Cranston, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to Power Rangers Zeo
- Bob Andrews, from The Three Investigators
- The Brain, Arthur
- Brains, Thunderbirds
- Brainy Smurf, The Smurfs
- Carl Chryniszzswics, Johnny Bravo
- Carlton Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- Comic Book Guy, The Simpsons
- Daria, Beavis and Butthead, Daria
- Dennis Nedry, Jurassic Park
- Dexter and Mandark, Dexter's Laboratory
- Dilton Doiley, Archie Comics
- Edd, Ed, Edd, n Eddy
- Egon, Ghostbusters, The Real Ghostbusters
- Gretchen, Recess
- Dr. Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, Metal Gear Solid
- Irwin, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
- Keitaro Urashima and Naru Narusegawa, Love Hina
- Klaus Baudelaire, A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Koushiro "Izzy" Izumi, Joe Kido, Miyako Inoue "Yolei" Digimon
- Jassi, Jassi jaise koi nahin
- Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
- Louis Nichols, Robotech, Southern Cross era (aka Robotech Masters )
- Makubex, Get Backers
- Marilyn, Bonkers
- Martin Prince, The Simpsons
- Milhouse Van Houten, The Simpsons
- Napoleon Dynamite, Napoleon Dynamite
- Parfet, Vandread
- Peter Parker, (in earlier versions as Spider-man's alter ego)
- Buddy "Syndrome" Pine - The Incredibles
- Professor Farnsworth, Futurama
- Professor Frink, The Simpsons
- Q, James Bond movies
- Sailor Mercury, Sailor Moon
- Sheldon Lee , My Life as a Teenage Robot
- Shirase Akira, Battle Programmer Shirase
- Steve Urkel, Family Matters
- Toby Radloff, American Splendor movie
- Velma, Scooby-Doo
- Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though less so toward the end of the series); compare "The Evil Trio", aka "The Troika" (Warren Mears, Andrew Wells and Jonathan Levinson)
- Willy DeWitt, Bucky O' Hare
- Yo-less, the Johnny Maxwell trilogy
- anorak (slang)
- "Why Nerds are Unpopular"
- High school subcultures
- List of computer term etymologies
- Wikipedia Subcultures: Trekkies, Rennies, Geeks, Fanboys, et al.
- OmniNerd, intended as "an academic forum for all aspects of the 21st Century nerd".
- Slashdot, news for nerds.
- The Nerd Manifesto
- Wired The Geek Syndrome
- Revenge of the Nerds An essay written by Paul Graham
- Why Nerds are Unpopular Another essay written by Paul Graham
- The American Nerd Association
- NERDS -- a Willy Wonka brand candy.
- N.E.R.D. -- the band name under which production team the Neptunes release their own music.
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