I’m a nerd or, more correctly, I’m a geek. We won’t dig into the differences here but there’s a related story that I want to share so the point is valid.
This week while working with someone over wording for a memo at work the person I was working with used the word “brainiacs” to refer to smart technical people.
My response: Paragraph 4: “Brainiacs” is mildly derogatory; switch with “geeks” please.
Just when I was patting myself on the back for the nice catch in editing she wrote back to ask, “is geek not worse? – have removed altogether”
I wrote a quick reply. Then expanded on it. Then expanded on it more. In the end, this is what I sent:
“Geek” is more complicated. It used to be pejorative (in fact, a study of the etymology shows that it was used to describe sideshow or circus “freaks” circa. 1800’s and has roots in German/low German “gek” or “gecken”) but in the last decade “geeks” have reclaimed the title and, when used self referentially (even collectively), it’s a source of pride or in some uses, honor.
In “geek” circles the term is applied to those with exceptional technical aptitude or who are perceived to have above average intelligence. Other traits include a detail oriented and structured approach to problem solving as well as a penchant for over explanation of simple concepts as in this paragraphical response to a question that could have been answered with a simple, “no, not really”.
The self identification trend started with something called “geek code” back in the mid-90’s. Geek code was a simple semi-secret way of informing fellow “geeks” as to your personality, appearance, interests and opinions.
For example my code:
GCS/O d-/++ s+:++ a+ C+++ ULS++++ P+++ L+ E— w++ PS— PE++ PGP t+ 5+ tv b+++ XK++ h r+++
Tells you that I am, (GCS) a geek with computer science background and (/O) other pursuits. I dress (d-) in jeans and t-shirt or (/++) in a very conservative fashion when going to work. I am a little taller (s+) and rounder (s:++) than average. I’m between 40 and 49 (a+) and have an exceptional interest in computers (C+++). I am a sysadmin level user of unix operating systems (ULS++++) (both Linux and Solaris) as well as an windows server admin (w++). I am an exceptional Perl programmer with interests in php programming (P++++). I watch Star trek (t+) and Babylon 5 (5+) and like XKCD comics (XK++) but I don’t watch much else on television (tv). I am happily married (r+++) and live in a nice house (h+). I am an avid reader (b+++) and have ultraconservative views on most social issues (PS—) as well as merely conservative views on economic issues (PE—).
Geeky, no? And yes… geekcode is a real thing…