geek, nerd or dork?

I wrote a bit a couple of weeks ago about clique taxonomies, especially as they pertain to the high school movie genre. In my research, I came across some interesting tidbits, which I thought I’d share.

Most high school clique taxonomies make some reference to individuals who are not considered popular: the “outcasts” or “outsiders.” Most commonly, these “others” are labelled geeks, nerds or dorks. (Though the terms dweeb and spaz or spazz are not uncommon.) The use of these terms has usually been extended past the high school age, when clique membership becomes less clear. Interestingly, the taxonomies for these groups have become hotly debated.

For example Militant Geek (“Militant Geek Custom Shirts: Propaganda for a Geek Friendly Future”) offers these words of concern:

An alarming trend that we’ve noticed at the Militant Geek HQ is the sloppy usage of the terms ‘geek’, ‘nerd’, and ‘dork’. It was almost as if certain individuals assumed that they meant the same thing! For the record Geeks are those that have technical aptitude, nerds are bright but socially awkward, and dorks are just inept excuses for protoplasm.

This site has even offered up a “handy comparison chart” to help people understand the differences in the classifications.

Coyote of Not funny…ever offers these words of wisdom in a post called Geek Dweeb or Spaz?

Dork – (Pronounced “Door’k” From the Latin “Murdockious”) A Dork, like the Spaz has all the knowledge and ability of a Geek or a Nerd, but has NO clue

Buckethead of The Ministry of Minor Perfidy offers definitions and discussions in the similarly-titled though differently-punctuated post Geek, Dweeb, or Spaz?

Nerd: the nerd is base type, from which all the others are derived. Nerds are bright, and lacking in social skills. They have odd interests. They are dilettantes, and usually end up consumed by counterproductive pursuits like the SCA, Star Wars collectables, and Star Trek conventions. Some nerds can achieve purpose in life translating the arcane thoughts of the geeks to the mundane normal people. Nerds are hapless, though they often have a goofy charm.


And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Whether it’s the Wikipedia entry for geek an “ask yahoo” response to the fundamental question “What’s the difference between a nerd, a geek, and a dork?” or a discussion board topic on a site called Geek Culture. You can even get t-shirts that help you with the terms, like the cafépress “geek hierarchy” shirt:

Geek Hierarchy: Geek > Nerd > Dork. Geeks design it, Nerds buy it, Dorks break it.

Do you wonder where you fit into the picture? Do you have leanings of geekery, or hints of nerdiness? Or are you just a total dork? There are tests to help! (Well, to help you figure out if you are a nerd or a dork. Finding help with being a dork is another question.)

Okay, I’ll have to post about the tests later. I’d better get to work.

7 responses to “geek, nerd or dork?

  1. Hmm. Interesting. I always differentiated between a geek and a nerd by determining where they would be by their mid-20s. In my mind, a nerd was someone who was unpopular in high school, but started to gain ground in University, really coming into their own after graduation.

    A geek, on the other hand, never really could be hip and continued to focus on the interests that they had in high school, but would find a community of other geeks in University and would be happy and comfortable in that skin.

    I never really considered dork, though, as I never really considered it a category of person, so much as a category of behaviour. You could be a dork whether you were cool, a nerd or a geek.

    Not that I think about it a lot.

  2. ok, here’s my take:

    “geek” is cool, or a compliment, at least in certain geeky circles. I think it can also be neutral, meaning “one who is very interested or obsessed with something,” as in “computer geek”, and it can be a verb, as in “geek-out on Buffy”. A geek can be just as obsessed with TV/film/music as with academics, if not more so. I don’t see it as having much of a negative connotation anymore, but maybe that’s because I hang out with geeks!

    Nerds are also smart and obsessed, but very uncool. Badly dressed, less up on pop-culture stuff. They talk with a nasally voice and take life very very seriously.

    Dorks have all the social ineptitude of nerds, but none of the skillz. Think Napoleon Dynamite.

  3. This is some good research.

    I tend to use the term “nerd” to describe some things I do, but I think my social skills are intact.


    Othertimes I think I am a spaz. And my offspring is certainly a spaz.

    Anything in your research about the genetics of Geekology?

  4. How about “neomaxizoomdweebie”? I don’t know that this one was mentioned in your discussion of The Breakfast Club.

    I would have to put myself in a category somewhere between Geek and Spaz. And really, must we sully lack of motor control with a label?

  5. Didn’t Tiger Woods get in serious trouble in the UK for using the word ‘spaz’? Yes, he did.

  6. I just realised that I mixed my definitions up. Geek can later become cool, while nerd can’t.

    So does that qualify me as a dork?

  7. Yes, the debate rages on. Thank you all for weighing in.

    Yeah, dorkiness can certainly be applied to a range of people. As for mixing up geek and nerd, well, it’s possible that others would classify them the way you did in your first comment. Some people embrace nerd and others geek.

    Nasally voice? Now that’s specific.

    I think I may do more of this research. I hadn’t considered the genetics. Would you be interested in writing a joint paper on the subject? And I like your term Geekology. (I may have borrowed/stolen it for my following post).

    “neomaxizoomdweebie”? Yup, I definitely missed that one.

    Hmm. I forgot about that.

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