Definitions

dull person

Nerd

[nurd]
Nerd is a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people.

Etymology

The first documented appearance of the word "nerd" is as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo (1950), in which the narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo. The slang meaning of the term dates back to 1951, when Newsweek magazine reported on its popular use in Detroit, Michigan. By the early 1960s, usage of the term had spread throughout the United States and even as far as Scotland. Throughout this first decade, the definition—a dull person—remained constant and was, at the time, a synonym for "square" or "drip#Noun." It was only later, in the 1970s, that the word took on connotations of bookishness and social ineptitude.

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.

The term was popularized in the 1970s by its heavy use in the sitcom Happy Days.

Characteristics

The stereotypical nerd is intelligent but socially and physically awkward. In film and television depictions, nerds are disproportionately white males with glasses, braces, acne and pants highly lifted up. It has been suggested by some, such as linguist Mary Bucholtz, that being a nerd may be a state of being "hyperwhite" and rejecting African-American culture and slang that "cool" white children use. However, after the introduction of the Steve Urkel character on the television series Family Matters, nerds have been seen in all races and colors as well as more recently being a frequent young Asian male stereotype in North America.

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.

Nerd pride

In the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds, starring Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards, Carradine in particular worked to embody the nerd stereotype and, in doing so, helped create a definitive image. Additionally, the storyline presaged, and may have helped inspire, the "nerd pride" that emerged in the 1990s. American Splendor regular Toby Radloff claims this was the movie that inspired him to become "The Genuine Nerd from Cleveland, Ohio. In the American Splendor film, Toby's friend, American Splendor author Harvey Pekar, was less receptive to the movie, believing it to be hopelessly idealistic. Many seem to share Radloff's view, as "nerd pride" has become more widespread in the years since. MIT professor Gerald Sussman, for example, seeks to instill pride in nerds:
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.
— Gerald Sussman, quoted by Katie Hafner, The New York Times, 29 August 1993

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.

An episode from the animated series Freakazoid, titled "Nerdator", includes 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 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.

See also

References

Further reading

  • 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.

External links

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