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Nerd (adjective: nerdy) is a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired. They may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities. Additionally, many nerds are described as being shy, quirky, and unattractive, and may have difficulty participating in, or even following, sports. Though originally derogatory, "Nerd" is a stereotypical term, but as with other pejoratives, it has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.
The first documented appearance of the word "nerd" is as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo (1950), in which the narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo. The slang meaning of the term dates back to 1951, when Newsweek magazine reported on its popular use as a synonym for "drip" or "square" in Detroit, Michigan. By the early 1960s, usage of the term had spread throughout the United States, and even as far as Scotland. At some point, the word took on connotations of bookishness and social ineptitude.
An alternate spelling, as nurd, also began to appear in the mid-1960s or early 1970s. Author Philip K. Dick claimed to have coined this spelling in 1973, but its first recorded use appeared in a 1965 student publication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oral tradition there holds that the word is derived from "knurd" ("drunk" spelled backwards), which was used to describe people who studied rather than partied. On the other hand, the variant "gnurd" was in wide use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology throughout the first half of the 1970s.
Other theories of the word's origin suggest that it may derive from Mortimer Snerd, Edgar Bergen's ventriloquist dummy, or the Northern Electric Research and Development (N.E.R.& D.) Laboratories in Ontario (now Nortel). The Online Etymology Dictionary speculates that the word is an alteration of the 1940s term nert (meaning "stupid or crazy person"), which is itself an alteration of "nut".
Nerds can either be described by their hobbies and interests, or by abstract qualities such as personality, status, social skills, and physical appearance.
Some interests and activities that are likely to be described as nerdy are:
- Intellectual, academic, or technical hobbies, activities, and pursuits, especially topics related to science, mathematics, engineering, linguistics, history and technology. (See below)
- Hobbies, games, and activities that are described as obsessive and "immature", such as trading cards, comic books, fantasy and science fiction novels, television programs and films, role-playing games, tabletop games, and video games. (See below)
- Interest in the fine arts, non-mainstream music, hobbies (i.e., collecting), or other "obscure" interests.
- Heavy obsession with a topic that would otherwise be mainstream (such as a popular TV show or a sport).
"Weird Al" Yankovic's song "White and Nerdy" states many other stereotypical nerd interests, including the Segway, ten-pin bowling, A.V. Club, the Renaissance Fair, editing Wikipedia, and Dungeons and Dragons. 
An interest can also be nerdy because of its association with "nerdy" people. For example, the stereotype of a "Band nerd" comes from the opinion that many high school band students are goofy or socially inept (except with other band students), things that would brand a person as a nerd. But, it has been applied to all students that are in band or orchestra, even the ones with little involvement (see School band#Stereotypes and popular culture).
Over time, an activity or subject can become less nerdy. This may be because of availability, because of better applications for the general public, or because of a shifting image of the majority of people taking that interest. Examples of such activities include computers, video games, the internet, and television.
Personality and physical appearance
Stereotypical nerds are commonly seen as intelligent but socially and physically awkward. They would typically be perceived as either lacking confidence or being indifferent or oblivious to the negative perceptions held of them by others, with the result that they become frequent objects of scorn, ridicule, bullying, and social isolation. However, many nerds may eventually find a group of similar people to associate with.
Because of the nerd stereotype, many smart people are often thought of as nerdy. This belief can be harmful, as it can cause high school students to "switch off their lights" out of fear of being branded as one of them, and cause otherwise appealing people to be nerdy simply for their intellect. It was once thought that intellectuals were nerdy because they were envied. However, Paul Graham stated in his essay, "Why Nerds are Unpopular", that intellect is neutral, meaning that you are neither loved or despised for it. He also states that it is only the correlation that makes smart teens automatically seem nerdy, and that a nerd is someone that is not socially adept enough. Additionally, he says that the reason why many smart kids are unpopular is that they "don't have time for the activities required for popularity."
Stereotypical "nerd" appearance includes very large glasses, braces, severe acne and pants highly lifted up. In the media, many nerds are white males, portrayed as being physically unfit, either overweight or very thin. It has been suggested by some, such as linguist Mary Bucholtz, that being a nerd may be a state of being "hyperwhite" and rejecting African-American culture and slang that "cool" white children use. However, after the Revenge of the Nerds movie franchise (with multicultural nerds), and the introduction of the Steve Urkel character on the television series Family Matters, nerds have been seen in all races and colors as well as more recently being a frequent young Asian or Indian male stereotype in North America. Portrayal of "nerd girls", in films such as She's Out of Control, Welcome to the Dollhouse and She's All That depicts that smart but nerdy women might suffer later in life if they do not focus on improving their physical attractiveness.
In the United States, a 2010 study indicated that Asian Americans are perceived as most likely to be nerds, followed by White Americans, while non-White Hispanics and Black Americans were perceived as least likely to be nerds. This stereotype may be socially damaging due to exclusion. Among Whites, Jews are perceived as the most nerdy and are stereotyped in similar ways to Asians.
Medical and mental disorders
Nerdiness is often compared to one or more medical disorders.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder symptoms, such as showing extreme interest in rules.
- Sensory processing disorder due to the low muscle tone and problems with communication.
- Asperger syndrome, due to the tendency to engage in intense, specific, obscure, or intellectual interests and to experience difficulty in social situations. Temple Grandin, who has Asperger syndrome, has been quoted as saying, "Nerd is another word for Asperger's.'
The rise of the computer industry has allowed many "nerdy" people (most notably Bill Gates) to accumulate large fortunes. Many stereotypically "nerdy" interests, such as superhero and science fiction works, are now popular culture hits. Some measure of nerdiness are now allegedly considered desirable, as, to some, it suggests a person who is intelligent, respectful, interesting, and able to earn a large salary. Stereotypical nerd qualities are evolving, going from awkwardness and social ostracism to an allegedly more widespread acceptance and sometimes even celebration of their differences.
In the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds Robert Carradine worked to embody the nerd stereotype; in doing so, he helped create a definitive image of nerds. Additionally, the storyline presaged, and may have helped inspire, the "nerd pride" that emerged in the 1990s. American Splendor regular Toby Radloff claims this was the movie that inspired him to become "The Genuine Nerd from Cleveland, Ohio." In the American Splendor film, Toby's friend, American Splendor author Harvey Pekar, was less receptive to the movie, believing it to be hopelessly idealistic, explaining that Toby, an adult low income file clerk, had nothing in common with the middle class kids in the film who would eventually attain college degrees, success, and cease being perceived as nerds. Many, however, seem to share Radloff's view, as "nerd pride" has become more widespread in the years since. MIT professor Gerald Sussman, for example, seeks to instill pride in nerds:
My idea is to present an image to children that it is good to be intellectual, and not to care about the peer pressures to be anti-intellectual. I want every child to turn into a nerd - where that means someone who prefers studying and learning to competing for social dominance, which can unfortunately cause the downward spiral into social rejection.
Bryan Caplan, a professor of Economics at George Mason University, refers to himself as "an openly nerdy man" and has written of a "Jock/Nerd Theory of History". He believes that income redistribution is a tactic by Jocks to prevent Nerds from gaining power over them.
The popular computer-news website Slashdot uses the tagline "News for nerds. Stuff that matters." The Charles J. Sykes quote "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one" has been popularized on the Internet and incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates. In Spain, Nerd Pride Day has been observed on May 25 since 2006.
The Green brothers, John Green and Hank Green of the popular YouTube account vlogbrothers have commonly referred to themselves as nerds, and much of their online personas are that of nerdy appeal. In fact, the name their fans have adapted reflects the popularity of this nerdy subculture, "Nerdfighters" or "Nerdfighteria."
...most nerds are shy ordinary-looking types with no interest in physical activity. But, what they lack in physical prowess they make up in brains. Tell me, who writes all the best selling books? Nerds. Who makes all the top grossing movies? Nerds. Who designs computer programs so complex that only they can use them? Nerds. And who is running for high public office? No one but nerds. ... Without nerds to lead the way, the governments of the world will stumble, they'll be forced to seek guidance from good-looking, but vapid airheads.
The Danish reality TV show FC Zulu, known in the internationally franchised format as FC Nerds, established a format wherein a team of nerds, after two or three months of training, competes with a professional soccer team.
Nerdcore hip hop is a genre of hip hop music that has risen in popularity over the last few years, often expressing nerd themes with pride and humor. Notable artists include mc chris, MC Plus+, MC Hawking, MC Lars, MC Paul Barman, and MC Frontalot. The term nerdcore has seen wider application to refer to webcomics (most notably Penny Arcade, User Friendly, PvP, and Megatokyo) and other media that express nerd themes without inhibition. In addition, many standard hip hop musicians self-identify as nerds including XV, Hopsin, Childish Gambino and Shad. In 2010, Lupe Fiasco and Pharrel Williams started the All City Chess Club, a movement for rappers who would be considered nerdy but do not fit into the nerdcore genre. Among those who self identify as part of the All City Chess Club include B.o.B and J. Cole.
However, those simply adopting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable or unwilling to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals. Some commentators consider that the word is devalued when applied to people who adopt a sub-cultural pattern of behaviour, rather than being reserved for people with a marked ability.
A "blerd", a pormanteau of the words "black" and "nerd", is a person of African-descent who identifies with a set of behavioral traits which extend the "nerd" stereotype, being overly intellectual, obsessive, yet conversely in maintenance, whether personally deliberate or culturally accidental, of viable social graces, partly in virtue of the reclamation movement of the larger "nerd" culture, which seeks to reshape perspective and meaning of the term, and due to a lack of empirical-anthropological introspection of Western popular culture into African aesthetics and Diaspora.
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- Anorak (slang), person with a very strong interest in niche subjects
- Dissocial personality disorder
- Get a life (idiom), taunt
- Jock (athlete), contrasting stereotype
- Nice guy
- Otaku, Japanese term for people with obsessive interests
- Outcast (person)
- Trainspotter#Popular culture
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|Look up nerd in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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