A Dialectical Question

13 Jan

I’d like to go ahead and attack what I think is one of the central questions on my mission: what is the difference between a nerd and a geek? (Dorks we’ll leave alone for now, because I feel like everyone is in agreement that they’re in a little subcategory all their own.) This seems to be a hotly debated question, and there’s more about it online than I’ve had time or energy to plow through yet. But I will say this – it’s a fucking linguistic nightmare.

Basically, the distinction may come down to mere geographical vernacular. I grew up in the South (where, yes, we do capitalize “south”) and to my understanding a geek was someone with more – for lack of a better term – “useful” knowledge. Someone who would obsess over computers, science, math, literature. But a deep, loving comprehension is key. And a nerd was someone with – again, pre-apologies for word choice here – “trivial” obsessions: comics, scifi/fantasy, RPGs, numismatics.

Having said that, there is a lot of overlap here (a lot, a lot, a lot). Where I come from the issue is further compounded by the use of “geek” as a verb. Anybody can geek out over anything they’re really into. As in “Billy Bob’s geeking out over the new parts he got for his Chevy.” (True story.) But you’d never say “nerding out.” You could say someone was “nerding it up,” but then there’s a certain implication about the activity itself. You would nerd it up with a Star Trek marathon, but not a Metallica listening party, get it?

Contrarily, my friends and family in the Midwest (Kansas and Oklahoma, mostly) use these backwards. You’re a computer nerd but a comic book geek. And here in California I’ve run across so few of us that the issue hasn’t really come up yet. I’ll keep you posted. Northern California’s weird on so many levels.

For the time being, I feel like I can self-label and co-opt both terms pretty comfortably. Not to say that they’re interchangeable, because that would really offend some folks, but the line is so fine that I’m having a hard time staying on one side or the other. I’m secure in both my nerdy geekitude and my geeky nerdism. This whole idea, learning all I can about relatively nerdy things, is me geeking out on being a nerd. Right now. I’m doing both. Actively. It’s fascinating.

But let’s get one thing straight: I am not a hipster. Someone (my cousin, who fills a very Tyler Durden-ish role in my life) recently called me a hipster and I wasn’t sure how to react. Offended? Confused? Encumbered? Yes, I wear Daria glasses and Converse and play the ukulele and drink PBR. But I don’t own a fedora and I do not embrace either pencil jeans or music with clapping instead of drums. Nerd? Cool. Geek? Fine. Don’t call me a hipster. I’ve got this one nailed down.

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