Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Are You a Nerd? Or a Geek?

My own definitions and how I identify
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 10/23/2015 at 8:25 AM EDT

GrokNation is many things, but we are not a dictionary. There are many clever places on the internet to find the difference between nerds and geeks. I won’t try to replicate those. But based on my personal experience, I want to add my thoughts so that we can hopefully grok the words “nerd” and “geek” to the fullest extent possible. (Editorial director Esther notes that this discussion itself is a geeky – or nerdy – thing to do, and that geeking out about nerdiness and nerding out over geekiness proves that we may be in both categories. But let’s move on…)

I was first called a “nerd” as a first-year student at UCLA. I was waiting outside of one of the first classes I took – I think it was biology. A young, attractive female student was also waiting and we made some small talk. She asked what I wanted to study and I said “the brain.” She scoffed and said, “Nerd.” It wasn’t funny, because it was 1994 and being called “nerd” back then had no “cool factor.”

Nonetheless, I embraced being called a nerd – my first email address ever was – even though the student had meant it as an insult. I still embrace being a nerd, but I’ve discovered that I’m also a geek! I guess I’m a double winner.

In my mind, “nerd” generally refers to someone with academic proclivities or interests that revolve around science-y, tech-y things. (Not always, but generally.) Socially, nerds are not typically “hip.” Nerds are the people you teased in high school but end up calling boss, as one Urban Dictionary contributor puts it. I think of the merciless teasing many boys (and a few girls) in my junior high and high school endured, and I think of the things thrown at them and the mean things written on their desks and books and I think of watching them cry. Those are nerds.

Nerds can grow up into perfectly lovely, loving, lovable people (and some turn into Nerdfighters, people who are, according to John and Hank Green, “instead of being made up of bones and tissue and skin are made up of pure awesome.”) When nerds grow up, they may observe that some of their mannerisms or behaviors (past and/or present) seem Asperger’s-like (although they may or may not have such a diagnosis): tendencies to obsess about particular hobbies and activities, or to feel socially disconnected or uncomprehending of social cues.

Generally speaking, nerds are not up on pop culture that the cool kids like, and they are not up on fashion, and they may not even care to be. Nerds like music that talks about nerdy things, like They Might Be Giants and Weird Al do. Nerds don’t just want to have fun- they want to learn a lot of things even to the neglect of social niceties.

I am a nerd.

Geeks are people whose interests may be somewhat outside of the norm. Geeks can be a lot like nerds and in my youth, they were kind of the same, but there is a class of new world geek I’ve become acquainted with that I feel fits the modern description perfectly. These geeks like things like Dungeons & Dragons and computers, or maybe they like science fiction shows, but they look and act and walk among the “normal” people with more ease than nerds do. Some of my favorite geeks in my life know what’s hip to wear, are up on the cool TV shows, watch reality TV and spend a lot of time on social media because they have lives that facilitate that.

Nerds like me don’t really do social stuff a lot at all. I also like geeky things, like D&D and science fiction and such. But I don’t have the ability to turn off my nerdiness and just be cool with things the way the new world geek can. Nerds are often accused of being too cerebral, while the geeks I know can run with the in-crowd and function more like “normal people.” Geeks can look and play the part, socially, much better than nerds.

These definitions reflect my personal perspective, so don’t hold me to any of this. Just know that I embrace “nerd” more than geek, and I wish people would lighten up and love the nerds a bit more. Despite our poor fashion sense and desire to turn every conversation into a Wikipedia entry, we are smart, we mean well and we’ve created many things in the world that nerds, geeks and everyone else can enjoy. So let’s share this world together, nerds, geeks and beyond…

Grok with us: Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd? Both? What are you nerdy or geeky about? Is “geek” or “nerd” an identity that you identify with, or are challenged by? Who is your favorite nerd or geek and how did he or she influence you? Share with us on Facebook or Twitter, or create an Instagram image that represents this question and tag us in it – #letsgrok it together…

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