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The word geek is a slang term, noting individuals as "a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc."[1] Formerly, the term referred to a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken, bat, snake or bugs. The 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary included only the definition regarding geek shows.

This word comes from English dialect geek, geck: fool, freak; from Low German geck, from Middle Low German. The root geck still survives in Dutch gek: crazy, and in the Alsatian word Gickeleshut: geek's hat, used in carnivals[2].



The definition of geek has changed considerably over time, and there is no longer a definitive meaning. The terms nerd, gimp, dweeb, dork and spod have similar meanings as geek, but many choose to identify different connotations amongst these terms, although the differences are disputed. In a 2007 interview on The Colbert Report, Richard Clarke said the difference between nerds and geeks is "geeks get it done."[3] Julie Smith defined a geek as "a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace—somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager's room in his parents' house."[4]

Other definitions include:

  • A derogatory reference to a person obsessed with intellectual pursuits for their own sake, who is also deficient in most other human attributes so as to impair the person's operation within society.
  • A person who is interested in technology, especially computing and new media. Geeks are adept with computers, and use the term hacker in a positive way, though not all are hackers themselves.
  • A person who relates academic subjects to the real world outside of academic studies; for example, using multivariate calculus to determine how they should correctly optimize the dimensions of a pan to bake a cake.
  • A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who passionately pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance.
  • A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest. This definition is very broad but because many of these interests have mainstream endorsement and acceptance, the inclusion of some genres as "geeky" is heavily debated. Persons have been labeled as or chosen to identify as physics geeks, mathematics geeks, engineering geeks, sci-fi geeks, computer geeks, various science geeks, movie and film geeks (cinephile), comic book geeks, theatre geeks, history geeks, music geeks, art geeks, philosophy geeks, literature geeks, historical reenactment geeks and roleplay geeks.
  • A more recent school of thought sees Nerd as being a derogatory phrase, whilst Geek is simply a description. It is taken to be someone who is an enthusiast, often in things outside of the mainstream spectrum, of note is that in this definition, there is no reference to being socially inept in the slightest.

Reclaiming and self-identification

Although being described as a geek tends to be an insult, the term has recently become more complimentary, or even a badge of honor, within particular fields. This is particularly evident in the technical disciplines, where the term is now often a compliment, denoting extraordinary skill. Nerd Pride Day has been observed on May 25 in Spain since 2006. (May 25 being the world premiere date of Star Wars and also Towel Day i.e. Birthday of Douglas Adams) The holiday promotes the right to be nerdy or geeky, and to express it in public without shame. A new convention, Geek.Kon, has sprung up in Madison, Wisconsin with a purpose to celebrate all things geek. The website BoardGameGeek is an online community of boardgamers who identify themselves as geeks at game conventions; they call their website "The Geek," for short. Technical support services such as Geek Squad, Geeks on Call and Dial-a-Geek use the term geek to signify helpful technical abilities. In recent history, some geeks have cultivated a geek culture, such as geek humor and obscure references on T-shirts. The so-called geek chic trend is a deliberate affectation of geek or nerd traits as a fashion statement. Nonetheless, the derogatory definition of geeks remains that of a person engrossed in his area of interest at the cost of social skills, personal hygiene and status.

Geeks in popular culture

  • In 2005 and 2006, the former WB Television Network (now The CW) ran a reality game show called Beauty and the Geek, where "geeks" try to share their knowledge with "beauties" while trying to learn a modern style from them. The show is currently in its fifth season.
  • Comedy Central ran a game show named Beat the Geeks from 2001 to 2002. It featured contestants competing against a movie geek, television geek, and a music geek, along with a special fourth geek. The fourth geek would have a certain area of expertise such as Star Wars, The Simpsons, horror, Star Trek, and comic books.
  • The IT Crowd, produced by Channel 4, focuses on the shenanigans of a three-person IT support team located in a dingy, untidy and unkempt basement. Moss and Roy, the two technicians, are portrayed as socially inept geeks, while Jen, the newest member of the team, is hopelessly non-technical.
  • The show Freaks and Geeks explores the social conundrum of new students adapting to existing social norms. Geeks were shown to be interested in Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, Saturday Night Live and related actors, Monty Python, AV club and Atari. Members of their group acknowledged being different from others for their interests, looks, intelligence and lack of social skills.
  • Planet Nerd is a variety show for and about nerds and geeks.
  • Nerdapalooza is a planned geek music festival.
  • Geek Monthly is a recently launched lifestyle magazine, published twelve times a year in the United States of America by CFQ Media. The magazine is positioned in the marketplace as a more "fanboy" version of established magazines such as Wired and EW as well as the discontinued Gear. The first issue featured Rainn Wilson on the cover in a James Bond pose, whilst features included that of Sci-Fi, Lifestyle and Woody Allen.
  • The TV show The Big Bang Theory on CBS is about two socially inept prodigies in their 20s who are living across the hall from a beautiful girl with a more conventional intellect. The male characters are consciously modelled around an extreme caricature of the geek/nerd stereotype, and mainly as physics geeks (with references to laboratory work, lasers, and academia). There is a dispute over if they are nerds, geeks, or both.
  • The William Lindsay Gresham novel Nightmare Alley filmed with Tyrone Power begins and ends with a carnival geek.
  • Robert Lanham, author of 'The Hipster Handbook' -- see chapter on "The Loner" -- a.k.a "The Garofalo" in Playboy -- as in Janeane Garofalo -- & 'Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees & Other Creatures Unique to the Republic')
  • Professional wrestler Freddie Blassie coined the "pencil-neck geek" catchphrase early in his career to describe a fellow carnival performer. He also lent his voice to a comedy novelty song by the same name in 1975, commonly featured the Dr. Demento Radio Show.

See also


  1. ^ "Dictionary: Geek". entry. Retrieved on 2007-10-12. 
  2. ^ French Wikipedia Geek Article
  3. ^ The Colbert Report - 2007 Archive - 1/17/07 - Television - SPIKE Powered By IFILM
  4. ^ Reconstruction 6.1 (Winter 2006)

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