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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Allow Us To Explain

Is It Cool To Be A Geek Or Should We Still Get Offended By The Term?

A lot of people in the geek community have differing opinions on what they like to be called or call themselves. Personally, I have no problem identifying myself as a geek girl, geek, nerd, dork, etc. but not everyone is so comfortable. But what happens when you travel outside our relatively small, close-knit, group? Do people still see the term “geek” as derogatory, or on the contrary, do more people consider themselves “geeks” than ever? Turns out, the answer is yes to both. 

MSNBC reports survey results from IT recruiter firm Modis. In honor of Geek Pride Day, they attempted to find out about “geeky attitudes in the United States. “Of the 1,008 Americans 18 and older who took the telephone survey in late April, just 17 percent identified themselves as “geeks,” defined by items such as being a technology addict or a go-to person for tech advice. (Social awkwardness and working in the tech industry or in IT were down at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.”

They conducted a similar survey last year in which they found the word “geek” was associated to favorable attributes. Depending on what you’d consider a geek though, it seems as though a good percentage could be considered one.

But if tech addiction is a criteria, most of us qualify. In the survey, 70 percent of all participants said they would have a hard time going for a whole day without one of eight devices, such as a smartphone, computer or MP3 player.

And many forms of addiction are common 66 percent of all people admit to using technology in “inappropriate” places or at inappropriate times. That includes at the dinner table or behind the wheel (32 percent each) or at a funeral (though only 5 percent did that).

Spending more time online than off was another indicator of being a geek according to Modis. But just because the firm thinks so, doesn’t mean everyone does. ”When you hear the term geek, the [reaction] immediately is defensive,” said Jack Cullen, the president of Modis. “But as people look into the definition and think more on it…they take a sense of pride in it.”

Again, not everyone feels the same. Recently, USA Archery CEO Denise Parker called the sport “geeky” in reference to a discussion on it and The Hunger Games on NBC Nightly News. “If we’re brutally honest, is a bit geeky; it’s a geek sport,” she said. To which US Olympic hopeful Jake Kaminski said:

Is anyone else in the archery world as offended by this as me? I for one take this sport very seriously. I try to represent my family and support it and myself through archery. I try to represent my sponsors and exceed their expectations in every facet of the sport.

I would prefer to see this sport grow in a non joking manner. I do not like how we are always made a mockery of. Are track and field athletes called ‘geeks’? Didn’t think so.

Ouch! Why is the assumption that geek-named things can’t be serious? I’m pretty sure physicists take their job pretty seriously too but I know at least one who doesn’t mind being called a geek. Unfortunately Kaminski wasn’t alone and Parker was forced to make a statement on the USA Archery facebook page.

[I was] referring to the word’s more modern definition: “A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who passionately pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance.” To me, it was meant to describe the sport as being not-mainstream and unique, which I find very cool about our sport.

I understand and appreciate why some have been offended by the phrase “geek sport,” which can have other connotations, and just want to apologize to any people I have offended with the statement. It was a poor choice of words, and I am sorry.

I know there are a lot of old-school geeks who get angry as more and more people call themselves “geeks,” but I’m  of a mind to be inclusive to anyone who wants to call themselves…whatever they want to call themselves. I wasn’t always comfortable with it, I certainly kept things to myself in high school for fear of being outed as one, but in the last few years myself and lots of others have come to embrace the term as something positive. And I certainly don’t let past negative experiences with the word get in the way of having fun. It seems we have more work to do to let the rest of the world know that geek isn’t a dirty word anymore if people still get this upset over being called one. Though sometimes I forget the world is more than just my twitter buddies.


(via MSNBC, Wired, image via)

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  • Anonymous

    Like every other term that is deemed derogatory but has been “taken back” by the group at whom it is directed, it depends entirely on the context and the person saying it.  “Only WE can say that word” is a popular statement, based on that sense of context. 

    When the media talks about “geek chic” they are still referring to us in a diminutive sense.  They will still ever include pictures of the fat Klingons with such stories. 

    With very little trouble, it can usually be discerned is someone is insulting you, trying to “reach” you, or is just clueless.  And in each case, the reaction should differ.

  • Selkiechick

    I still ocassionaly hear geek used in a derogatory sense (mostly by people like geeky things but don’t want to be associalted with … “those people”), but when I do hear “the tone” smiling and saying “you say that like it’s a bad thing” tends to defuse it.

  • Marie

    I also object to the notion that something can’t be geeky and serious at the same time. I’d argue that geeks tend to take their geek interests EXTREMELY seriously.  

    Today, I freely call myself a geek/nerd/whatever, but one of the most hurtful things anyone every said about me was that I was the biggest nerd she’d ever met. (I was 11 at the time) So I could see if someone has negative associations with it not wanting to be called that.  But they’re about the only words I’d use to classify myself now.  Other than, you know, female and human.

  • John Farrier

    “Of the 1,008 Americans 18 and older who took the telephone survey in late April, just 17 percent identified themselves as “geeks,” defined by items such as being a technology addict or a go-to person for tech advice.

    These people are properly identified as “nerds”, not “geeks”.

    I know there are a lot of old-school geeks who get angry as more and more people call themselves “geeks,”

    I don’t get angry, but I do get mildly annoyed at the abuse of the word. I paid a price for my geekery in my youth, and I don’t care to see johnny-come-latelies claiming the term.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Even if they like exactly the same things you do?

  • Eva Marie Heater

     I think one of the problems with this is the fact that one of the most popular shows on network television is about geeks (The Big Bang Theory), so perhaps this is why more people have decided to try to identify themselves as geeks. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the abuse of the word; when someone can be an expert on a topic as obscure as mine (the transmission of hunting horn calls from antiquity through the middle ages), s/he can legitimately claim geekhood.

  • Jennifer Walker

    The whole debate reminds me of that Sabrina, the Teenage Witch episode with the Science Club and exclusionary tendencies. Geek is currently trendy or chic right now and the stigma it carried in, say, the 80s isn’t really as noticeable anymore. If it brings about a more inclusive, more positive acceptance of passionate interests (how I define geeky), then, by all means, everyone can be a geek in their own right!

  • Jack Creed

    Geek or nerd, I identify as both and have for years.  I too was one of those “old school” geeks who caught a bunch of crap but it doesn’t bother me too much that the term is popular.  The way I look at is that the more people who get into nerdy/geeky things the more geeky things will be created for us to enjoy.  I keep thinking that if nerd culture were like this ten years ago Firefly would have lasted more than part of a season.

  • Eric Lindberg

    I’ve never liked “nerd” (too many painful memories) but “geek” I’m okay with. These days it seems to connote someone with a passionate interest in an aspect of pop culture. Of course, if you look at the origin of the word it started as a name for a sideshow freak. Not so flattering. But many geeks consider themselves outsiders or misunderstood, so perhaps it’s a reflection of that–embracing what society considers odd. In any case, I think it’s good to have some form of self-identification for our community.

  • Nikki Lincoln

    I definitely agree with you that people should be allowed to call themselves whatever they want. It seems a bit hypocritical to do otherwise. I definitely grew up being called a nerd or geek or teased and excluded because I was different. When those same people, those of use who were teased and excluded, turn around and exclude others and say they don’t “qualify” to be geeks… well, that makes me uncomfortable. 

  • Null

    There are a lot of overlapping definitions (social awkwardness, skill at technology, knowledge of science, tastes in popular culture trending toward fantasy (of which science fiction is a form)), as many people who are A and B are also C.

    Probably it’s a personality type that’s existed for ages; mild forms of Asperger’s are probably useful for investigating the physical universe and such. There are ancient Greek jokes about absent-minded professors. The split between scientific and literary intellectuals seems to be more recent.

  • Null

    To hell (and Gehenna, Hades, Tarterus, and the Abyss) with cred. If they don’t know as much about Star Wars or computers as you do, you can teach them. If they’re hipsters pretending to be geeks (a new and puzzling development), they’ll leave when they realize you’re not cool enough for them. No need to be a smeghead.

  • Travis Kyle Fischer

    The problem I come across is occasionally I’ll come across somebody and they’ll talk about how much of a geek they are for whatever subject, and I’ll think “Oh, hey! Somebody who not only shares my interests, but can discuss it with me on an equal level.”

    So I’ll shift into jargon mode and, more often than not, completely lose them.

  • Emily Fleming

    I identify myself as a geek, especially around my students (aged 8-17); when they look at me funny, I say “hey, a geek is someone who gets really excited about things they like! I think that’s pretty cool. Imagine never getting excited about anything.” and then point out things they’re geeky about; cars, Justin Bieber (insert swooning from grade six girls here), fashion,video games, unicorns (insert swooning from grade three girl), ninjas. They’ve figured out that Miss Emily gets really excited about a lot of things, and think that’s pretty neat, to the point that one of my groups insisted I tell them more about root words and how they help us to figure out what a big word means even if we’ve never seen it before.

    To adults, I say that I’ve embraced my geekitude and hope one day to attain nerdvana.

  • Emily Fleming

     Off-topic, but do you have a website or recommended reading on hunting horn calls? That sounds really interesting.

  • John Farrier

    But they don’t. “I love photography — OMG I’m such a geek!” No. That’s just a serious interest in a topic.

    Geekery — at least as the term was used when I was growing up (in the snow, uphill, both ways) — was a subculture that coalesced around science fiction & fantasy, video & role-playing games, anime, comic books and all related conventions.

    Now the term is used by some people to mean a great interest in a subject — any subject at all.

    And they are free to do that, as they like. There is no ownership of words. And I am free to be, as I said, mildly annoyed by it.

  • Selkiechick

     I really *like* that the definition of geek has shifted has become a word that describes a degree of interest in a subject, not interest in a particular set of subjects. It think this use helps all kinds of people with varied interests find good middle ground and some understanding, and gets rid of  a lot of the “us versus them”  and “look at those FREAKS” attitudes that have driven the negative social attention that comes with liking certain things.
    I’d love it if the reaction to a Science Fiction convention could be less “why would you do that with those strange people” and more- “Oh yeah- I went to the Car Show last month- it’s really great to get to spend time with people who love something as much as you do.”

  • Danielle Rogers

    Hmm… I’m honestly not really sure what to think. I freely call myself a nerd, as do the majority of my friends. We’re all into video games, obscure mythology, sci-fi, anime, fantasy and so on. I love meeting others into the same things as me, though I only really find those people on places like Tumblr and my local conventions. 
    Even though I absolutely love people using the word at a convention, I feel much more against it when used at my high school. Girls tend to wear shirts that tend to mock geekery, like wearing a Thor shirt and shouting out “OMG I’M SUCH A NERD” when people point it out. When, in reality, they don’t know anything about the character besides that there’s a movie and comic about him?? I hear “OMG I’M SUCH A NERD” about a lot of things, even just reading the Hunger Games (Which I consider pretty mainstream and not really nerdy)… 
    Personally, my criteria for being a nerd/geek/dork etc is being able to answer a question like “Marvel or DC?” truthfully, quoting movies like LOTR, being up to date with internet memes, knowing what 4chan is (I’m surprised at how many people don’t), playing Pokemon seriously etc etc
    So, I think I just have some negative experience from constantly hearing people shout out how nerdy they are for pretty ‘normal’ things (Or getting called nerdy by people ’cause they looked up a meaning of a word once… Seriously), but normally I’m fine with people calling themselves such and love the people that do. c: 

  • Nick Gaston

    To put my feelings for the term in decidedly un-geeky terms: “geek” or “nerd” is fine, but smile when you say it.

  • Anonymous

    My personal philosophy is that what you like doesn’t make you a geek, it’s how you express your enjoyment.  I don’t think a someone who knows all the player stats on their favorite team or can identify a car’s model year by looking at it is inherently less geeky than someone who collects action figures or can name all the star wars novels.  You can be a movie-geek, a mythology-geek, a car-geek, a computer-geek, or even a track-geek.

    I tend to think that nerd implies a level of expertise, or even professionalism, but less enthusiasm.

  • Jen Roberts

    I identify as “geek” (as I babbled about here: after reading an article here on The Mary Sue), and I’m fine with people saying “I’m a ______ geek” (movie, bicycling, whatever). I figure if you don’t qualify it, then you’re likely a more traditional Geek (sci-fi, fantasy, comics, games, etc.). This doesn’t ALWAYS work, but it works more often than not.

    I think a lot of the negative stigma of being a “geek” or a “nerd” is a combination of leftover social misconceptions combined with the occasional news of our own wacko fringe (every subculture has a “wacko fringe”): things like the Cross Assault debacle, for example. When things like that happen, I stand up against the negativity and make sure that everyone knows that not all geeks are like that.

    So, no, I don’t mind being called a geek. I know about the origins of the term, but our constantly evolving language has moved us away from that. I’m proud to be a modern geek. *puts on I’m the One That’s Cool*

  • John Wao

    Say it loud, I’m a geek and I’m proud! 

  • Anonymous

     Yeah, but “popular” doesn’t mean “positive,” either. Geekdom – and by that I mean the desire to learn – can be part of a healthy life. But shows like that treat it like a life sentence. It’s shows like that that people will point to in digging up any negative stereotype about geeks. Associating commercial viability with social acceptance is a premise fraught with consumerism and privilege, and it also disguises the misogyny and prejudices many elements of our various fandoms refuse to own up to or address for the sake of “being positive.”

  • Anonymous

    Why is tech saviness still a prominent defining factor for geekiness? I am terrible with computers, but I know everything about Star Wars, I go to cons, I draw fan art. I think I may be a geek.

  • SailorAstarte

    I find the term offensive. It is still considered derogatory by many, or rather, is still thought of/ used by outsiders as such. I’ve never known it to be a compliment. Although there may be a “hipness to it now, I still find that what is defined as “geeky” is looked down upon. “You’re such a geek” isn’t so much a term of endearment but stating that the person is rather a loser — a loveable one perhaps, but still “not as good as __.” The term “geek” brings up the image of the lonely boy in the basement with toys and comic books and social awkwardness, or you know, the stereotypes on “The Big Bang Theory.” “Geek” brings up the idea that the person is weak. Even if the person breaks the general stereotype and is attractive, strong, and do on, someone is prone to say, “you’re still a geek” in derision, however amicable it may be. It’s like “nerd” equates the idea of a weaker individual with glasses, and despite great intellect is also a social misfit. Just look at any Disney TV show

  • SailorAstarte

    and you will see the smart one or the gamer, for example, and their knowledge may prove helpful with whatever trope the episode was fulfilling, but as soon as they say or do their “geek” or “nerd” thing, the other characters look at each other with a look of scorn or dismay. Perhaps, I’m just super-sensitive, but at the same time I can’t see myself embracing the term “f*****” because I’m gay, nor using “gay” as a “modern definition” to the word “stupid” or “an object or person to be met with ridicule and/ or scorn.”