An alternate spelling, as nurd, also began to appear in the mid-1960s or early 70s. Author Philip K. Dick claims to have coined this spelling in 1973, but its first recorded use appeared in a 1965 student publication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oral tradition there holds that the word is derived from "knurd" ("drunk" spelled backwards), which was used to describe people who studied rather than partied. On the other hand, the variant "gnurd" was in wide use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology throughout the first half of the 1970s.
Other theories of the word's origin suggest that it may derive from Mortimer Snerd, Edgar Bergen's ventriloquist dummy, or the Northern Electric Research and Development labs in Ontario (now Nortel). The Online Etymology Dictionary speculates that the word is an alteration of the 1940s term nert (meaning "stupid or crazy person"), which is itself an alteration of "nut.
They typically appear either to lack confidence or to be indifferent or oblivious to the negative perceptions held of them by others, with the result that they become frequent objects of scorn, ridicule, bullying, and social isolation. Some nerds show a pronounced interest in subjects which others tend to find dull or complex and difficult to comprehend, or overly mature for their age, especially topics related to science, disambiguation, mathematics and technology. On the opposite end of the spectrum, nerds may show an interest in activities that are viewed by their peers as immature for their age, such as trading cards, comic books, or role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and other things relating to fantasy and science fiction. They are also stereotyped for being obsessed with Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction shows or movies. Nerds are often portrayed as unfit and either obese or very thin. Nerds are also sometimes portrayed as having symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as by showing an extreme devotion to following rules.
Stereotypical nerd qualities have evolved in recent years, from awkwardness and social ostracism to a more widespread acceptance and sometimes even celebration of their abilities. This is largely attributable to the rise of the computer industry, which has allowed many "nerdy" people (most notably Bill Gates) to accumulate large fortunes and other measures of social prestige. Some measure of nerdiness is widely considered desirable, because it suggests a person who is intelligent, respectful, interesting, and able to earn a large salary. This evolution has dovetailed with waning emphasis on the social awkwardness of nerds, with more attention placed on their intelligence and academic enthusiasm.
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, which can unfortunately cause the downward spiral into social rejection.
The popular computer-news website Slashdot uses the tagline "News for nerds. Stuff that matters." The Charles J. Sykes quote "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one" has been popularized on the Internet and incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates. In Spain, Nerd Pride Day has been observed on May 25 since 2006.
...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 high office of the Presidency? No one but nerds.''
The Danish reality TV show FC Zulu, known in the internationally franchised format as FC Nerds, established a format wherein a team of nerds, after two or three months of training, competes with a professional soccer team.
Nerdcore hip hop is a genre of hip hop music that has risen in popularity over the last few years, often expressing nerd themes with pride and humor. Notable artists include mc chris, MC Plus+, MC Hawking, MC Lars, and MC Frontalot. The term nerdcore has seen wider application to refer to webcomics (most notably Penny Arcade, User Friendly, PvP, and Megatokyo) and other media that express nerd themes without inhibition. Although the idea of nerds is popular, those adapting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals.
- Bucholtz, Mary. ""Why be normal?": Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls." Language in Society (1999), 28: 203-223. Cambridge University Press.
- Frayling, Christopher. Mad, Bad And Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema. Reaktion Books, 2005.
- Genuine Nerd (2006) - Feature-length documentary on Toby Radloff.
- Kendall, Lori. "'The Nerd Within': Mass Media and the Negotiation of Identity Among Computer-Using Men." The Journal of Men's Studies, 7(3) (1999): 353-69.
- Kendall, Lori. "Nerd Nation: Images of Nerds in U.S. Popular Culture." International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, 260-283 (1999)
- Kendall, Lori. "'Oh No! I'm a Nerd!': Hegemonic Masculinity on an Online Forum." Gender & Society, 14 (2) (2000): 256-274.
- Nugent, Benjamin. American Nerd: The Story of My People. 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0743288019
- Newitz, A. & Anders, C. (Eds) She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff. Seal Press, 2006.
- Okada, Toshio. Otaku Gaku Nyumon (Translated: 'Introduction to Otakuology'). Ohta Verlag. Tokyo, 1996.
- " The Well-Dressed Geek: Media Appropriation and Subcultural Style" (Paper by Jason Tocci presented at the MIT5 conference. PDF, 180kb).
- "Why Nerds are Unpopular", an essay by Paul Graham about the conformist society in American high schools.
- "The Nerds Have Won", an article by Brian Hayes in American Scientist, September-October 2000.