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Re: On nerds and dreamers

From:David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
Date:Thursday, March 3, 2005, 6:00
What an interesting thread.

Sally wrote:
It's another ambiguous phrase defined by the people who use
it.  Comments?

This is referring to the phrase "get a life".  I think it applies to an
idea which I'll come back to that, at least in America (from what
I understand), someone who's well-rounded and "maleable", for
lack of a better word, is valued more highly over someone who's
specialized and rigid.  So, for example, someone who knows a
little bit about a bunch of different things has more social value
than someone who knows a lot about one thing.  This can be seen
in informal social gatherings.  Compare a person who can take
a part in any conversation and relate it to many different topics,
and compare that to a person who can't really participate in any
conversation unless s/he can relate it to, say, The Simpsons (a
criticism of one of my friend's ex-boyfriends).  Maybe this is
because, in general, people don't want to always talk about the
same thing...?  Eh.  I've run this thought dry.

Sally wrote:
Meanwhile, back to nerd and geek.  What do others think is a distinction
between these two?   "Geek" does seem to have gravitated more to the
technical side than "nerd" does.

Someone brought up a really good point about this.  Let me find the
message.  Ah, yes.

Christian wrote:
For me, the guy with in-depth knowledge
on his field (be it assembler programming, audio hardware or
oil painting) but lack of social skills is a geek.

For me, the specific word "geek" is moving in this direction.  In fact,
I'd say that pretty soon the "in-depth knowledge in one field" will
take over, and the "lacks social skills" aspect will become less and
less core.  I know people that use "geek" derivationally, in fact.  Take
any field, any interest, and insert "geek" after, and it becomes a
person who spends "too much" time doing stuff in that field, to
the neglect of everything else.  And geek no longer need apply
only to the prototypical "geek" things (computers, role-playing,
Star Trek, etc.), but to anything.  For example, within my own
linguistics department, I've been referred to as a language geek,
because I spend a lot of time learning about different languages,
as opposed to, say, learning about theory.

The implication, though, is that if you have a person that spends
most of their time doing one thing, they're probably a less well-
rounded individual, and, therefore, less socially adept.  However,
the positive association (i.e., if you have a problem in field x, you
want a field x geek to help you) is definitely alive, and will continue
to grow, I think.  Isn't there something like this with Best Buy and
the Geek Squad, or something, for computers...?

Now, as for nerd...  Nerd still has very negative associations with
me.  With a nerd, I think of someone who:

a.) is socially inept
b.) lacks interest in "normal" things
c.) is not smart

That last one is the sticking point with me.  I knew lots of people
in high school that were interested in, say, role playing, but who
were smart, and who got things done in school, and had a life, even
if it didn't involve playing sports and hanging out with "popular"
The nerds were the ones who were always saying they were smart,
getting along with no one, and failing remedial English for the third
year in a row.  They had nothing at all going for them.

For an analog, think about Napoleon Dynamite in the movie
_Napoleon Dynamite_.  This is a kid who clearly lacks social
skills, is no good at sports, isn't interested in anything popular,
and isn't very smart.  He's a good prototypical nerd: He's got
nothing at all going for him.  One of the things that makes that
movie so interesting is that he starts with nothing, and then
proceeds to build himself up, so that, by the end, he's greatly
improved.  He comes to several realizations in the movie, and
then starts to set himself some goals, wherever he finds them,
sets out to accomplish them, and accomplishes them.  So even
though he hasn't really done anything fantastic by the end,
you get the sense that he's on his way; that he's going somewhere.

Anyway, that's my impression of the words "nerd" and
"geek"--and of _Napoleon Dynamite_, which I thought was
the most underrated movie of last year--Million Dollar Baby
be damned!

Oh, and on Herman's post:
But I've heard the usage of "geek" referring to a carnival performer
exactly once, in the lyrics of a song which a little Google searching
reveals to be "The Carny" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. So I don't
think it's probably that well known. I think Andreas Johansson's
definitions are closer to my understanding of these words.

Let me put on my Simpsons Geek hat and inform you that this
usage found its way into the carny episode of the Simpsons.  This
was the one with the late Ernest.  Homer and Bart are hired to
work as carnies at the local carnival after Bart wrecks Hitler's
car (an attraction at the carnival).  One of their jobs, as informed
by the carnival owner, was to work as geeks in the Geek Show.
What they had to do: Bite the heads off chickens, and take a bow.
This is a capsule of the episode:

Here's the exact quote:

Tex: All right.  Now, this geek bit is pretty straight forward.
        You just bite the heads off the chickens and take a bow. [He
        Bart and Homer chickens] Go on.  Give it a try.  Big smiles.



Roger Mills <rfmilly@...>