nerd or geek

How to Tell the Difference Between Nerds and Geeks

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The terms “nerd” and “geek” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Both terms can be viewed as either endearing or pejorative, depending on how the term is applied, by whom, and to whom. And there is always passion aplenty involved in the definition and application of either term. This article will help you to tell the difference between nerds and geeks, with ample room for your own subjective interpretation!


  1. Understand the terms. While the terms are often used interchangeably by people “less-in-the-know”, and for some people who self-apply the labels “geek” or “nerd”, there is often an overlap in characteristics,[1] and there are some characteristics that can be emphasized:
    • The term “nerd” was apparently coined in 1954, possibly from the Dr Seuss line “A nerkle, a nerd, and a seersucker too!”.[2] A nerd could be viewed as someone with an extremely intense interest or fascination in an academic field of study (often an obscure field), or similar “cerebral” pursuit. Being a nerd is typically associated with intellect, as a nerd often enjoys specialising in complicated fields of study. Nerds may also have difficulties socialising with others, as many tend towards being introverted, although it is also said that a nerd cannot be bothered developing social skills while busy with other interests.[3] Nerds often have gained a strong and diverse skill set from their studies and experiences, which may at times be unorthodox or impractical. Nerd interests may cover a broad range of interests, from movies to games (video and table-top), to more practical skills such as computer science.
      • Very likely to be a rocket scientist, a renowned yet reclusive professor, a scientist, an intellectual, a computer programmer, an engineer, an inventor, etc.
    • The term “geek” is often said to have originated from circus performers in sideshows, referring to those who performed bizarre feats.[4] However, its earliest meaning is, “one who is regarded as foolish, offensive, worthless, etc.”[5] Today, the term has taken on a positive slant and a geek could be viewed as someone with an interest or lifestyle having to do with niche activities, especially fandom and technology.[6] It is not uncommon for a geek to be capable of reciting large amounts of knowledge that is unintuitive, intriguing and (at times) long-winded. The knowledge could be anything from the mundane to ‘living encyclopedia’ status.[7] Geeks tend to have average grades. Geeks can vary in their interests, from fun (films) and sometimes even frivolous things (collecting plastic figurines), to heavily technological interests (computing, hacking, and programming). Urban Dictionary goes so far as to suggest that society still views computer programming as a “bizarre feat” and the term “geek” is a proud label reflecting this.[8]
      • Likely to be a gamer, a Star Trek fan, technologically enthused, a film series/book series buff, a free-spirited (not malevolent) technology hacker, a creator of unusual objects (artist, etc.), etc.[9]
  2. Observe the person. What sort of words and phrases do they interject into their dialogue?
    • Jargon and obscure referencing: Nerds are unabashed about using jargon or unfamiliar terminology in their dialogue, whereas geeks will use obscure references abundantly.
    • Details: Geeks often take interest in the microcosmic details of life, such as noticing that your present situation is much like one from a news article or novel. Nerds will be seemingly uninterested in the details of daily life, being more focused on the macroscopic, such as scientific possibilities and the future of humankind.
  3. Take a quick inventory of their prominent possessions, especially ones related to hobbies and other interests. Check for unusual objects, such as a dictionary of an obscure language, or an encyclopedia of exotic birds. Nerds may be more willing than geeks to show off hobbies and possessions that flaunt their intellect, whereas geeks may take pride in more obscure and unique subjects.
  4. Engage the person in conversation. If the person fails to respond in a socially comfortable manner (i.e., they make you nervous, or vice versa), you may be talking to a nerd. If they respond in a comfortable manner but appear a little “dorky”, such as speaking and/or acting silly, you might be talking to a geek. Also, nerds may speak in layman’s terms for your benefit because you may not understand the basic concepts of their area of interest. Geeks may speak in detail about their interests, possibly forgetting that the target audience may not have the same level of knowledge in that field as themselves.
    • Jokes: Geeks usually get them, nerds either don’t, or can’t be bothered trying.[10]
  5. Inquire about the person’s interests. Hobbies which do not elicit emotion, such as frequent studying of academic works, are good indications of a nerd, while an obsession with the practice of academics (i.e., a passionate college lecturer) would indicate a geek.
    • Example nerd interests for comparison:
      1. Physics (such as quantum mechanics or astronomy), chemistry, biology, engineering and fuzzy math
      2. Chess, and other strategy games
      3. 17th century English literature
      4. Classical music
      5. International politics and CSpan stuff
      6. Computer programming (overlap interest)
    • Example geek interests for comparison:
      • Specialized forms of activities, such as ‘tricking’
      • “Niche” activities, such as electrical engineering
      • Novels that have a foundation within a field of study
      • Noise, techno-music
      • “Odd” activities, such as creating Rube-Goldberg machines
      • Computer programming (overlap interest)
  6. Check out the partner of the person in question. Matt Blum claims that geeks have no problem falling in love with non-geeks but nerds always fall in love with other nerds. However, not all geeks/nerds want the attention of a love interest, or simply don’t care whether or not they have one.[11]
  7. Note that the interests of nerds and geeks often overlap. Most nerds enjoy the more intellectual forms of science fiction and most geeks have a higher knowledge of science or encyclopedic data than the general population.
  8. Aim to assume nothing and to treat all fellow human beings with equal respect, whatever label they’re self-applying or you’re tempted to apply. While there are a number of (often geek) commentators arguing that the term “geek” has a more modern, updated and positive connotation than that of “nerd”[12], the viewpoint is in the eye (or argument) of the beholder. The best approach to speaking and engaging with any person in your life is to be respectful, considerate and caring before all.
    • Remember that someone who calls themselves a nerd or geek may have different definition or interpretation of the term than you do. There are regional trends, but definitions should be examined on a person-by-person basis.
    • Some geeks perceive themselves as having transitioned from being a nerd earlier in life to becoming a switched-on geek later in life, almost like an epiphany, or a rite of passage.[13] Whatever the case, most of us have experienced growth at various stages of life, so try not to box anybody in with past expectations.
    • Be aware that ‘your’ application of either the term “geek” or “nerd” to another person may be viewed as an insult, whereas if said within the group, it may be viewed as positive.[14]


The difference between a geek, nerd, and dork, as explained by a self-proclaimed three-in-one package (a geek/nerd/dork). Proving it isn’t easy to make such distinctions…


  • To engage a geek or a nerd in conversation, be prepared to accept that there is something fundamentally interesting about what they obsess about. You may not fully understand why, but just accept that it is so.
  • Nerds may not feel the need to defend attacks against their areas of interest, since they simply don’t care so much about others’ opinions. Geeks are typically very energetic, and will jump at the chance to discuss a topic they care about, to help convince you about its worth.
  • The interests of geeks are often ridiculed or put-down by those who do not fully appreciate them. Nerds themselves are often ridiculed or put-down by those who do not fully understand them.
  • Some nerds believe that their interests are of “potential value to humanity as a whole, although humanity doesn’t know it yet”.
  • Geeks are typically able to extrapolate beyond an object’s immediate value to foresee future value, although many will merely see a trinket, hoarding, or garbage.
  • Very generally, a nerd might become a scientist or inventor, while a geek might become an engineer, an academic, or a critic (such as of films).
  • Geeks qualify for Mensa; nerds join. (Geeks and nerds both qualify for Mensa, however, nerds—preferring the company of others with similarly high IQ’s—are more likely to join Mensa, just as nerds are more likely to pick a fellow nerd for a mate.)[15]
  • Nerds and geeks, by their very nature, will never be ‘mainstream’ or accepted by the general populace. All one can do is attempt to be a little more open-minded, and a little more understanding of one another.
  • It is possible that somebody is either a nerd, or a geek, and doesn’t realize it, and therefore doesn’t celebrate their status or, identify with it, and may even be struggling to be seen as “mainstream”.
  • Both geeks and nerds may have traits of Asperger’s syndrome, which is soon to disappear as a separate diagnostic category and be incorporated into the high end of autistic-spectrum disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Becoming aware of this, if it fits you, can do much to alleviate the constant pain of trying to fit in where you cannot do so, when a greater measure of self-acceptance and capitalizing on your undeniable strengths would be a better strategy for leading a fruitful and happy life.


  • Geeks are well aware of their “geekiness”. Many geeks are even proud of being a geek, hence the launching of sites such as, LifeHacker, Gizmodo, and Engadget. Therefore, do not ever challenge a geek’s level of ‘geekdom’ if you wish to converse with them. Likewise, do not question the intellect of a nerd, lest you be shunned from their conversations.
  • Many nerds and geeks are introverted, and some are even asocial. They may even not want to talk to you at all. Be patient when conversing with them.
  • Don’t assume that geeks and nerds only have one interest. A linguist or artist may also happen to play football or guitar.
  • Nerds and geeks are often clever and witty. Enjoying the SyFy channel or knowing the Constitution in Latin are not grounds for claims of inferiority.
  • Do not assume that nerds and geeks want to be “converted” into “popular” people. Despite common misconception, nerds and geeks do not worship the popular, nor are they frightened by those who are seemingly popular. In fact, there may even be pity for the popular person’s shallow lifestyle.
  • Geeks are generally more open to talk things out with you if they disagree; a nerd will typically shun you if you do not provide a fleshed-out or logical counter-argument. Don’t take it personally; simply realize that they’re probably very frustrated that other people don’t connect with them at the same intellectual level.
  • It is possible for someone to be a nerd and a geek, depending on definition. For example, people who like Star Trek may be interested in NASA level quantum physics. A tomato gardener may have a degree in bio-chemical engineering. Many “nerd” and “geek” interests interlace. Often being a geek leads to being a nerd, as people research areas of science and technology appropriate to their interest. Similarly, nerds can become geeks, as expertise leads to interests outside the typically “academic”.

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Sources and Citations

  1. Great White Snark, Finally: The Difference between Nerd, Dork, and Geek Explained by a Venn Diagram,
  2. What Is?, Nerd,,,sid9_gci212630,00.html#
  3. Wolf Gnards, The Definitive Nerd vs. Geek,
  4. What Is?, Geek,,,sid183_gci212179,00.html
  5. Oxford English Dictionary
  6. Wolf Gnards, The Definitive Nerd vs. Geek,
  7. Wolf Gnards, The Definitive Nerd vs. Geek,
  8. Urban Dictionary,
  9. Last Geek, Let’s End this: Difference between Geek, Nerd, and Dork
  10. Greg Brady,
  11. Geekdad, Great Geek Debates: “Geek” vs. “Nerd”,
  12. Geek Studies, Geeks vs. Nerds,
  13. Geekdad, Great Geek Debates: “Geek” vs. “Nerd”,
  14. Urban Dictionary, Geek,
  15. Geekdad, Great Geek Debates: “Geek” vs. “Nerd”,

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