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What Makes a Nerd? July 27, 2014

Posted by Janjan in Geekery & Nerdoms.
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I was just hanging out with some friends I rarely ever get to spend the time with, even though I truly enjoy their company.  We made up for the lost time by spending around 4 hours in lively conversation.  All four of us were nerds.

Afterwards, I posted on Facebook about how I enjoyed the company of fellow nerds for the diversity of topics, when a lot of people liked my status, people whom I knew were not nerds.  I guess I was pleasantly surprised that nerds now are socially accepted by society.

There was a time when it was a crime to be a nerd and unfortunately, I was born in that time.  Back in the day, it was a social stigma to be called a nerd.  It implies someone who was a social outcast; someone who did not belong to the cool crowd.  I guess times have changed and people seem to look up to nerds now.

There are many nerd role-models who have paved the way.  People like Steve Jobs, Neil Grasse de Tyson, Stephen Colbert, and George R.R. Martin.  There are also nerds who break the stereotype and are actually quite attractive, such as Danica McKellar (“Winnie” from the Wonder Years, now a mathematician), Asia Carerra (a pornstar who has played piano at Carnegie Hall and studied at Rutgers University), Jude Law (a theater and film actor who plays Dungeons & Dragons), and Natalie Portman (a famous actress who studied pyschology and can speak 6 languages fluently).

So what exactly is a nerd? 

By strict definition, a nerd is someone who enjoys learning for the sake of learning.  A book-worm or a grade grind.  (Caveat though… there are some nerds, such as myself, who were not always strong in academics).  Most nerds are geeks (people who are fanatics of some pop culture phenomenon) but not all geeks are nerds.

Just for kicks, I thought about writing the characteristics that I personally think would qualify one to be a nerd.  If you have most, if not all, of the characteristics below, then congratulations!  You are a nerd.

1.  A nerd is someone who loves learning for the sake of learning.

Nerds prize knowledge, first and foremost.  We were those kids who grew up reading encyclopedias, newspapers and prestigious magazines like Time, Newsweek, Readers Digest or Scientific American not because it was part of our academics but because we were very curious about how the world works.  While we have our respective areas of interest (mine were pop culture, dinosaurs, birds, mythic deities, medieval Japan and medieval Europe, to name a few), generally speaking, nerds love to consume a wide variety of topics.  Notice that I used the word “consume”.  Because that is what is information for us… it’s food.  Nerds are lifelong scholars.  We love to read and learn from the world around us.

2.  A nerd has an impeccable command of the English language.

Of course, I generalize since an overwhelming majority of all the people I know are native English speakers (I’m sure there are nerds who speak other languages more impeccably).  Because, by and large,  we consume a huge number of books on a regular basis, the English language becomes second nature to us.  This is true for us Filipino nerds.  You will find that we prefer speaking English over our own respective Filipino languages.  We don’t even need to study the rules of grammar to be able to write and speak English properly.  We also try to refrain from using slang or street English because we find it unwieldy and vulgar, although ask us to switch to Ebonics, cockney or even l33+, and we could do so with flair.

3.  A nerd has a wide grasp of current political, cultural and scientific trends.

Nerds love to keep up with news and current trends.  We like knowing what’s going on in the world so we could have an opinion on matters.  If the trend interests us enough, we do further research on historical facts which led to this phenomenon.  Pop culture is something that fascinates us universally, not only because it is something that interests us but also because we like observing why this became popular and understanding why people have made this into widely-accepted cultural trend.

4.  A nerd is reclusive.

Most nerds avoid crowds.  Even the most extroverted among us are very picky with the company that we keep.  Even with our own crowd, most nerds rarely make the time to hang out with their own fellow nerds.  With the group of people I mentioned, it has been many months since I last hung out with them, even though we all live in the same city.

5.  A nerd has low tolerance for stupid and/or shallow people.

We cannot stand people who perpetuate stupidity, inanity, or who are, by nature, shallow and flighty.  We cannot stand small talk.  We avoid people whose world view is limited to what they see on soap operas, reality TV shows, neighborhood gossip or Facebook.  It’s like listening to a child babble on about things that they understand with their limited experience in life.  We just want to get back to our books and learning.  Life is too short to spend time on people who don’t know better.

5.  A nerd has a sophisticated sense of humor.

Because we follow so many cultural tropes and have a greater facility for wordplay, a typical nerd has a more sophisticated and witty sense of humor that involves a lot of puns and cultural cross-references.  Oftentimes, people don’t get what the joke is, but our fellow nerds do.

6.  A nerd is open minded and usually tolerant.

You seldom see a nerd who is set in his ways, unless that nerd feels passionately about a given issue and forms his or her life’s philosophy around it.  But even then, most opinionated nerds have already heard and studied the arguments from all sides of an issue to make an informed choice on their stand in the matter.  By and large, however, because our curiosity makes us see things from different points of view, most nerds are very open-minded, accepting and tolerant of other people’s opinions, quirks and foibles.  It’s also probably because the rest of the world sees us as eccentric that we are more understanding of other people’s oddities.

7.  A nerd will argue to the death.

While we are very open-minded, most nerds are, however, passionate about the knowledge they have acquired and will debate vigorously when their theories and hypothesis are challenged.  Most of the time, nerds argue without taking the debate personal since we firmly believe in the concept of truth and that what is held true has to be tested against prevailing evidence to the contrary to arrive to an even deeper understanding of truth.  In fact, any typical internet gathering of nerds will end up inevitably in heated arguments, even among nerds who consider themselves as close friends.

8.  A nerd respects a dedicated person more than an intelligent one.

While we nerds sound snobbish based on the traits we describe above, most of us are, however, not snobs.  Or at least, not in the way you think we are.  People seem to think we only prefer to be around our own kind… to be among nerds and geeks.  While we do enjoy our own company, we do not however want to be with other nerds and geeks exclusively.  Doing so is incestuous and makes us into boorish intellectuals, which we cannot stand.  Perhaps more than stupidity or shallowness, we nerds find obnoxiousness more annoying.  Arrogant people create walls which prevent a nerd from learning from the world in general, and to us, we love learning no matter if it comes from a fellow nerd or a simple man or woman who has seen and done much in life.  Also, because intelligence is a trait we take for granted, we are not easily awed by someone who displays intelligence with nothing else to back it up.  Regardless of your IQ, you will impress us, however, if you show dedication in what you do.  We nerds have a huge respect for people who show both passion and discipline in the performance of their work because we learn a lot from observing and following you.

 

I think these key traits are what defines me and my fellow nerds.  If you relate to these, then I welcome you, fellow member of my tribe.  When and where can we meet up and have coffee?

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