Which Word Wednesday: Geek vs. Nerd

By January 11, 2012 language No Comments

When I was in junior high and high school, TV shows and movies highlighted the awkward lives of the socially inept. These were lovable-yet-dorky characters like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Patty Greene in Square Pegs.

At that time, being nerdy or geeky was not something to strive for. Today, being quirky in a nerdy or geeky way is better than conforming to some standard of cooldom. So which sort of quirky is which? That’s the word quandary for today’s Which Word Wednesday between geek and nerd. Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

geek :: noun
an unfashionable or socially inept person

nerd :: noun
a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious; an intelligent, single-minded expert in a particular technical discipline or profession

From these definitions, geeks are inept but don’t draw attention to it; nerds are inept and lets everyone around see it in all its glory.

Ron Evans takes a different tact his The Artful Nuance: “A geek is any intelligent person with an obsessive interest, as in computers, science fiction, comic books, politics, or even sports. . . . It can be used almost neutrally or sometimes even positively.” 1 (Based on this definition, I could be classified as a grammar geek. Is that neutral or positive?) Evans continues: “A nerd is a socially inept or awkward and often unstylish geek.”1

Does that mean all nerds are geeks, but not all geeks are nerds? hmmm . . .

I found this great infographic (from dailyinfographic.com) depicting the differences between geeks and nerds. It says that people self-identify as geek more so than nerd. I think that’s because being geeky is not socially damaging. You can be geeky but cool. Being nerdy is not as socially acceptable because the nerdiness causes foolish or embarrassing behavior. (Click the image to see the infographic in full.)

What’s my WWW verdict? We’ve all got a little geek-and-nerd in us; it just takes the right topic and a demanding social situation to bring it to light.

What’s your verdict? Do you make distinctions between geeks and nerds? How do you tell them apart? Which do you tend to be? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 106–107.

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