“And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep, and a Proo, A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!”
-Dr. Suess, If I Ran The Zoo, (1950)
This was the first documented mention of the word “nerd.” Dr. Suess was probably the very best word maker upper that has ever lived (hey, if he can make up words, then so can I). So, how did we get from what most likely was referring to as a really fluffy zoo animal to the way we use the word “nerd” now? There is a lot of speculation on how it evolved. Just a year later, Newsweek printed an article that used the word “nerd” to refer to a dip or a square. I know you aren’t going to believe this but “nerd” used to be an insult. If you were classified as a nerd you were stereotypically wearing a pocket protector, broken glasses with duct tape holding them together, your hair was greasy, your pants were too short, and you always had some sort of nasal allergy thing going on.
Ah, but in our culture now nerds are the rockingest beings on the planet. (It totally IS a word, I just made that one up too!) A nerd may be defined the same… to have no social skills, etc… But a nerd is someone that is smart, and smart is sexy. A nerd is usually an expert in a certain field or skill. In my opinion, the insult part came when those who weren’t such experts in that field got jealous. But who has the last laugh now? Nerds are in high demand…they are sought after in big companies and have even gained new social status. Nerds are cool! And although you won’t find one behind bars at the zoo, you will find them in your workplace and on social media and in your schools. The only thing that even comes close to nerd status is the geek.
The word “geek” was coined in 1916 and it referred to circus freaks. Geeks were the ones who had the shock factor in the circus. “And now, in the center ring, watch the geek eat the African cockroach!” A totally different foundation but somehow geek was also used to refer to awkward folks that didn’t fit in. The definition of geek at dictionary.com is listed as a digital-technology expert or enthusiast; a person who has excessive enthusiasm for and some expertise about a specialized subject or activity. Who wouldn’t want to be a geek? Now, look at this third definition: A peculiar or otherwise unlikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual. Really? Is their smarticle-ness offensive? Come on! Geeks rock!
As much as society would like nerds and geeks to remain underdogs, I see an uprising on the horizon. Conventions like Comic-Con and CES are some of the hardest tickets to come by. Girls are yelling “talk nerdy to me!” (Wait… Maybe that’s just me…) Nerds and geeks have created amazing companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google… The list goes on and on. We’ve come a long way from Gilbert, Lewis, Booger, and Poindexter, and I’m quite sure the nerds of Lambda Lambda Lambda would be very proud.