the lawyer writer

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nerd v. Geek

The source of my pop culture fixation, E! Entertainment Television (sorry VH1--you are dead to me, expect for America's Top Model marathons) is already promoting its Mother's Day show Rise of the Geeks, and while the link is incredibly unhelpful, the commercial flashes an unusual array faces: familiar ones, like Adam Brody, Zach Braff and Bill Gates, and the more radical choices like Adam Sandler (please. a total jock, not a nerd or a geek). The ladies are probably represented by the likes of Lisa Loeb and Allison Hannigan (of Buffy fame), who have their own brand of geek chic, usually involving glasses or band camp.

Now, it is important to get the terms straight, for a variety of reasons, but the most important of which is that I am both nerd and geek, and I like to have the various parts of my personality neatly labeled. I use the phrenology head in my living room as my example. To bolster my defintions, I bring in our guest consultant, Wikipedia, the largest growing encyclopedia (who would probably get a lot more writers and accurate information if they gave authorial credit, but are awesome anyway).

"Nerd" is a derogatory term for someone of high I.Q., academic standing, and either adequate or dubious social skills, depending on your definition. For example, in the 1980's, skinny underage Indian girls who spent all their time in the library were known as nerds, or, in a particular case, "Nerdja."

"Geek" is a derogatory term for someone whose passions/obsessions are outside the mainstream, making them oddballs. Many geeks are technology/science geeks, but regardless of the field, geeks are obsessive in their devotion. For example, in the 1980's, skinny underage Indian girls who stared endless into the San Jose night with an old-fashioned telescope, trying vainly to find the rings of Uranus, were known as geeks.

Therefore, please do not throw those terms around. Admittedly, I am not a geek/nerd on the outside. I do not embrace geek chic; I strive more for "corporate goth bombshell." That said, I am still a nerd and geek on the inside, which is why when the hot dog vendor on my dog walk flirts with me, I get embarassed and think he's making fun of me. Okay, briefly. As with rap, I'm old-school--if you were a geek or nerd before it became trendy, then you have felt my pain.

The following criteria will help you distinguish whether you are truly a nerd and/or geek, or simply posing as such because it is fashionable.

The criteria:

1. Own, or still own, some of the original Dungeons and Dragons game books. Don't waste my time if you just "played the game" or "watched the (crappy) cartoon or (even crappier) movie." Unless you know the difference between comeliness and charisma, know how to calculate the hit dice of a mature green dragon (breath weapon: noxious gas), why Dragonlance books rock and who the dark lord of Ravenloft is, you don't qualify. However--if you still have one of the multiple-sided dice, you have a shot. Bonus points for sides over twenty.

For the record, I own a few books, my most prized possession being The Oriental Ad&D Handbook. I was always the Wu Jen-Kensai--magic and katana power.

2. Was addicted, in a serious, disturbing way, to at least one video game in your youth. It doesn't matter if it's Castle Wolfenstein on your brother's Playstation or Tetris at work, or 3-D Tetris at work or Tekken on your cousin's X-Box. We're talking: visual impairment when not playing, blisters on thumbs, nervous twitch that causes you to stack and unstack boxes, or charge into street fights with large panda bears.

3. Love anime. I mean serious, old school, Voltron, Robotech, Starblazers, Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Thieves, G-Force/Battle of the Planets--not-just-porn anime. Anime is the true sign of the discerning nerd, before it got overly uplifted in Spirited Away and bludgeoned into hyperactive stupidity with Pokemon. Please note: the following do not count as anime: G.I. Joe (though I loved it), He- Man (go She-Ra!),Thundercats, Transformers (surprisingly!). Some argue for Inspector Gadget; I find this assertion dubious.

4. Took the SAT at least three times. I took it six. I was the only twelve-year old at the testing center. AND: took at least two (2) of the following standardized tests: PSAT, AP (at least 2), ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT. Extra points for GRE Subject Science. GMAT takers are neither nerds nor geeks; they were playing baseball and nominating themselves for Vice President of the student body in order to have stuff to put on their b-school resume.

5. Was continually, steadily picked last for every sport except for badminton, and that's only because the racket wasn't so heavy to lift. (Alternatively: unable to catch, throw, hit or even spot the ball during softball). Bonus points: consistently failing the state-required physical fitness requirements (fifty situps? who's in charge, Patton?)

6. Was consistently, steadily bullied by at least two (2) different individuals at two (2) different stages of childhood/adolescence/teen years. Bonus points are awarded for the higher in the social ladder your bully was--for example, a grabby stoner is far less significant than, say, The Girl Voted Most Attractive her senior year of high school.

7. Had at least two of the following at an inappropriate time: braces (say, during senior year around the prom), glasses (since kindergarten), bad skin (ah, puberty), untamed facial hair (I really should have taken a razor to myself), sudden changes in voice (singing lessons were not a good idea), cuticle chewing, an undershirt instead of a bra, nail biting, hair-chewing, unfortunate makeup choices (blue eyeshadow and big earrings), unshaven legs (learning the hard way in the locker room) and, worst of all, unfortunately ignored armpits (ditto).

8. An unusual (or unhealthy) interest (or aptitude) in technology (or pure science) to the point that when that kid from the 'Nsync tried to buy his way into space, you thought about dating him just so he'd take you along, even though you have a strict no-boy-band policy. Oh yes, and a tendency to read chaos theory or The Dancing Wu Li Masters or Brief History of Time when drunk, making for strange falling dreams. (Please: let's keep the threshold for this high. Science fair ribbons, yes. Ipod critic for Vanity Fair, not so much).

9. Knows why it's very, very important for X3: The Last Stand, to get everything about Dark Phoenix/Jean Grey/Madeline Pryor right, and if they muck it up with too much romance with Wolverine or bad special effects, they really won't get the full impact of the whole Dark Phoenix story. Plus they're already in the doghouse for the Rogue/Ice Man romance, which is so boring and not worth passing up an opportunity to introduce her Cajun, card-throwing, French-mangling lover Gambit, aka Remy LeBeau, to be played by Dennis Quaid as he was in The Big Easy, preferably with his shirt off. (I will accept Josh Lucas if he can do the accent). Which, may, MAY make up for the fact that the X-Men cartoon is off the air, even if it wasn't very good, and Jubilee was incredibly annoying and they kept fighting robots. But it doesn't make up for the fact that all the X-Men videogames SUCKED.

Sorry about that. Number (9) is an unhealthy obsession with at least one series of comic books to the point that you start drawing your own secret comic book where you have the power to fly and manage a complex, superhero-oriented lovelife.

And finally...

10. Could never really fall for someone who doesn't find it cute that, at your core, you are still a nerd and/or geek.

26 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

Long time lurker, first time commentator here.

I feel your pain. About the only two I don't check are the bits on SAT's (because I'm was from Singapore) and bras (because I'm male).

If I may suggest, there are at least two other indicia of geekdom - knowing who Steve Jackson/Ian Livingstone/Joe Denver are, or reading LOTR before Peter Jackson popularized it.

Funny how I ended up in law school too...

Btw, seriously kick-ass blog. I've often thought about going into fiction-writing as well. Your blog is an inspiration. Kudos.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok. You're wrong about the anime thing. A serious nerd understands that while the animes you listed at the time were good for the time, that the stories, characters, and art in newer animes simply blow the old ones away.

Cowboy Beebop, Witch hunter Robin, Ranma 1/2, and man more blow the 'Old School' stuff away.

9:35 PM  
Blogger the lawyerwriter said...

I beg your pardon, but you're not taking into account that I am a girl. These days it's either Sailor Moon or Barbie, and while I would never argue against Cowboy Beebop, where are the chick heroines? Starblazers had three--sure, they were all blondes, and I was too for a while, but at least they were there. Find me the modern day equivalent of the Queen of a Thousand Thieves--or even Rook from Robotech--and I'll check it out.

9:39 PM  
Blogger TMB said...

"For example, in the 1980's, skinny underage Indian girls who stared endless into the San Jose night with an old-fashioned telescope, trying vainly to find the rings of Uranus, were known as geeks."

I find this highly unlikely. If you are correct and such girls (plural) existed then I would have had a girlfriend back then (or at least gotten a single kiss), which I most definitely did not.

"Was continually, steadily picked last for every sport except for badminton"

I was cut by our mutual high school's badminton team. I blame it on the fact that I had to get stiches in my head for profuse bleeding the night before tryouts. I used this traumatic experience (and the humiliation that followed) as motivation when I made the boxing team in college.

Your entry has left me somewhat depressed.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not taking into accont the girl-power?

One of the three main anti-heros in Cowboy bebop is a girl, the protagonist of Witch hunter Robin is a girl, and, aside from the main character who is half-girl, practically every character in Ranma 1/2 is a girl.

4:01 PM  
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Anonymous Blaise Rodrigo said...

Rings of Ur Anus!!! lol
Ah those were the days!!
Sorry Couldnt resist, I kinda thought u wanted someone to take the bait.
Swim fishy swim!

Ever think about writing a manifesto?

2:38 PM  
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Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Thank you for your post. Nerd vs. Geek is an important distinction, and I think you elucidate it well.

I disagree with the specificity of your geek criteria though. While I think they capture exactly the flavor of geekdom, one must remember that people can "geek out" on different things. For example, I meet criteria 1, 2, 7, 8, and 10 with flying colors. I almost meet criteria 4. But 3, 5, and 6 not so much, and 9 not at all. Nonetheless, I consider myself a geek and score pretty highly on those geek inventories one finds on the net.

One can be a geek without playing Dungeons and Dragons or loving comic books or being an anime fan, as long as one engages fervently in mental activities of a similar nature and with a similar obliviousness to social consequences. That is geekdom to me. Using these more abstract criteria, it is possible to identify geeks from other cultures and other time periods.

3:48 AM  
Anonymous The Mad Latinist said...

I followed a link from the above-posting zdrake's blog. As he has already said, this is a pretty good explanation, and you certainly sound like an interesting person.

I would like to point out, though, that there seems to have been a major shift in the meanings of these terms. In the late eighties, I recall defining geek to mean "someone who has all the disadvantages of being a nerd (social awkwardness, etc.), without the advantages (high intelligence, etc.)" In that era I would have much rather been a nerd than a geek. But now geek is by far the term with the more positive connations.

This shift is, I would think, obviously due to the rise of the internet and computer culture in general.

3:16 PM  
Blogger crimson dwarf said...

Hi, Im doing some research into badminton raquet as part of a college degree course. I found some people to provide input via badminton raquet but I need to contact others. Any ideas?
Regards

11:31 PM  
Anonymous AC said...

zdrake - good christ. you had us at "specificity". please embrace today's propellar-head award and take this slide ruler as a token of good faith. (and i certainly hope you take my words in good jest -- i mean, afterall, you ARE a geek, no? :)


so right, criteria --

- was a "SysOp" (System operator) of a BBS (Bulletin Board System) that i ran in '85 when i was ten, between midnight and 8am

- traded Garbage Pail Kid cards like a dope smuggler

- am indian (OK - that's cheating, but in case i come up short in points)

- only befriended those white kids whose dads kept Playboy/Penthouses in their tool sheds / garages (Anthony, thanks again, you accelerated my knowledge of the vagina by at LEAST eight years although it still doesn't explain why i sat home and dealt hands of BLACKJACK to MYSELF during the SENIOR PROM)

- was the idiot at school who sold candy on the playground during lunch ("no one wants to be my friend? *pout pout* maybe if i SELL THEM SOME CANDY they might talk to me, because CLEARLY eating next to the boy whose super-smelly sabzi-sandwich lunch that has striking similarities to that of ROAD KILL isn't working)

- prepared my book-report covers with the zeal of a terrorist. .."no, mom, i want STAPLES and STRINGS and RIBBONS and it should be SEE-THRU but a properly TYPEFACED STENCILING and...and... (ok - this is digressing into GAY nerd, perhaps)

- i sat for two weeks in our garage and tried to make "KITT" (of Knight Rider fame). the operation was promptly aborted when i wired a flash-light bulb directly into an electrical socket "ZAPPP!!" "what, what do you MEAN this won't create the flashing-red gradient KITT/Voice dashboard doohickey effect thing? Everytime i watch the show, all Bonnie does is press a few buttons and presto!"

- i've had my ear pulled so many goddamned times they're literally bigger now than they were when i was, say, five

ok, maybe not a nerd, but perhaps a menace. or, wait, a MENACING NERD.

ahh, ok, enough ...

5:48 PM  
Blogger Bengali Chick said...

I love you blog. You're words are very inspiring. Everything you're doing has such gumption -- you seriously rock.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Mahesh said...

u forgot to add teknoman- that was the coolest cartoon ever!!

7:00 PM  
Blogger Pareshaan said...

Okay I am going to be a jerk and say it - I think corporate goth or whatever, you look HOT. Sorry no offence meant.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this entry and thought--damn this sounds like me--all the way down to the living in San Jose (We don't know each other, but you could be my twin! Let's go voltron force!) interesting breakdown of geek vs nerd. of course in my high school, the fine line didn't exist-if you were in multiple AP classes and not in sports or a cheerleader or drama club- you were a nerd.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous bored said...

Wow, I hopped over here from SM...glad I did, this post rocks!

8:58 AM  
Blogger Collin said...

In jr. high, I forced the folks to buy me pads of graph paper as school supplies--I wouldn't "take notes" on anything else...

The one quibble I have with the list is #3--definite coastal bias. Having grown up in Iowa those many years ago, I can say with relative certainty that anime will be available there sometime in the next decade.

I didn't take the MCAT, I don't think.

Nice post,
cgb

10:18 AM  
Blogger BidiSmoker said...

My question is, what are you if you were good at school and interested in intellectual topics but not into "geeky" things like anime? I mean what if you're really smart but not socially awkward? What does that make you?

3:09 PM  
Anonymous writersbloc gal said...

found you through love & haterade - what a fantastic and hysterical list - and so so true. I still am trying to figure out whether or not i'm a nerd or a geek, but either way, i've embraced both aspects of myself. #10 is an absolute must! oh and the only thing i was always picked first for were school group projects - everyone wants to work with a nerd/geek!

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Sin said...

Hang on. Which particular Dark Lord of Ravenloft? I had a thing for S von Z myself, but once Dragonlance crossed over and Lord Soth entered, it became a tough call.

Oh Raistlin. *sigh* You'd always have been much happier if you'd just been gay.

Anime: I'm talking about Locke, Star Warrior here, and old-school Transformers: The Movie. I even know all the words to Stan Bush's "You got the Touch". *hanging head*

I only took the SAT twice, but I took 3 SAT IIs, the LSAT, the GMAT, the GRE, and the GRE Subject Test in Literature. Do I get extra points for tutoring all of those?

See, I just don't do sport.

I'm not going to comment on X3. Just...don't go in there with the hopes you have on your blog, 'kay?

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am only going to say the end of X3 totally sucked.. shame on them for what they did to Rogue :(

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a medium geek/nerd by your stadards for the mere fact that I am too young to have been into some of the old games and nerdy/geeky behavior. Don't worry though, I am currently getting thoroughly corrupted by older friends and loving every minute of it.

I did enjoy your guide though, and thanks for writing it!

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Julie- The Writer Nerd said...

Hmmm. I've got everything except #1. I also don't have only taken the SAT once (age 12), but that'll change soon (I'm 14) Oh yeah, AP testing starts next year for me, when I take bio, euro history, and trig. Yay!

Plus, I kinda giove away my nerd/geekiness with my t-shirts...but I am not a geek just cause it's some "trend".

Also, I wasn't alive for old school anime, but I read the mangas for animes that I watch. And I need the badly dubbed/ subbed version of animes cause they don't show them on tv. THANK YOU internet buddy from Japan! I would have to wait a whole week(for the dub to show up on youtube)without you!

1:44 PM  
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