Nerd Status

This weekend, I ran a couple times, including a really good bridge run this morning where my psoas muscles felt long and strong for the first time in a couple years. Sore, yes, but I can do sore. They extended and I didn’t have to compensate from other areas. This really makes me feel good about my future goals for this marathon-less year.

I did find out I can’t run Staten Island this fall (same day as wedding, oops), so the Pelham half will be the fall goal race. Someone run it with me, we’ll win age-group awards!

But I was happiest this weekend when I got uninterrupted time to just obsess over my educational goals. Literally just doing homework and dreaming about what I can accomplish through my education and scholarship.

I think this is what it means to be a nerd.

So let’s talk about that.

There are three related words: dorks, nerds, and geeks. No one says dweeb anymore.

What are the connotations of each, and how do they differ?

“Dorks” are everywhere. In fact it’s so used that it’s kind of meaningless. In my view, it just means “socially awkward.” Hence the term “adorkable,” and the classification of Jess from New Girl as a “dork.” I mean, I guess, sure. But my point is, it’s not really an insult. Also dorks aren’t necessarily considered smart.

“Geek” is, in my view, specifically technologically or numerically focused. Computers, math, even certain parts of finance, geeks. And geek used to be an insult, but considering tech titans mostly run the world now, it’s not anymore. Geeks are definitely seen as smart.

And what’s a nerd? Well, you think Steve Urkel, right? Wasn’t he a geek or a dork too? Probably. You can certainly be all three (this is the dumbest form of intersectionality, hahaha).

But to me, nerds are people who derive joy from the specifics of things that the general public is mostly only interested in the surface thereof (so, usually academic type things, the sort of things you can mostly find in books). These days it might be more accurate to call nerds “wonks” (as in a “political wonk”), but the connotation of nerds/wonks, the one part of it that is still considered negative, is that they are not particularly skilled at relaying their interests to the general public. And this is something I do struggle with, sometimes.

The ability to communicate is vital for an educator, of course. You can’t just be a nerd with subject knowledge out the wazoo. And you can’t just be a geek. In my doctoral programs, we’re kind of all nerds - that’s what doctoral studies ARE, right? - but learning how best to communicate our burning passion to people who live outside of our heads is the only way we’ll succeed.

Circling back to my original point, why would I say I’m a nerd more than the other two? Well, not a geek as I lost interest in math and computers as study subjects after they were forced down my throat by adults who wanted me to be a math superstar (when I wanted to be a writer). And I used to call myself a dork because I thought I was socially awkward, but, uh, I just have a brain that works atypically for better or worse, so that’s not really a personality attribute.

I’m a nerd because there is nothing more joyful for me than learning and using my knowledge and sharing it with others.

Do you see these words differently?


Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality