In the late 19th century, people used the word geek to describe an unfashionable, socially-inept person. The word geek can also be used to describe someone who is obsessive about a particular hobby; as in “computer geek.”
Nerd is a derogatory term invented in the 1950s, and used to describe a studious person who lacks social skills. Bullies invented the term to tease people they determined were foolish or contemptible. As with geek, the term nerd can also be used to describe someone who has particular expertise in a technical field, such as a “computer nerd.”
With such similar definitions, it can be difficult to determine exactly who or what defines a geek or a nerd.
How does one differentiate between such similar characteristics?
The following is a simple guide to help you tell the difference between a nerd and a geek. This playful guide (as in, not meant to be taken seriously) is especially helpful if you’re stuck in some sort of personality crisis, and cannot determine exactly where you fall on the geek/nerd spectrum (if there is such a thing).
Communication Varies Between the Two Archetypes
Sometimes, it’s difficult to pinpoint a geek. They’re not as socially awkward (inept) as their definition implies. Today’s geek is fun-loving, and mainstream. Unless they told you about their complete and utter Pokémon fandom, you may not even realize you’re talking to a geek.
Conversely, you’ll know it when you meet a nerd. Nerds are highly intellectual, and often use jargon regular folks don’t understand. They speak matter-of-factly, and prefer to talk about their intellectual pursuits…as opposed, to say, anything else.
Multiple Interests? Or, Just One?
The easiest way to tell a geek from a nerd is to consider his interests. Geeks typically have a single interest, or a predominate interest. In the article, The 4 Main Differences between Geeks and Nerds, author Steven Romano explains it like this:
“The term ‘geek’ has become associated with someone who has a vested interest in one particular thing and knows it on an expert level…Nerds on the other hand, concern themselves with academics such as math and science.”
For example, the Aviation Geek Fest is a two-day event celebrating all things aviation. Although the attendees are clearly intellectuals, their obsession with aviation makes most of them geeks and not nerds. Some attendees may identify with nerds, but only if their love of aviation is more technical than fantastical. Pilots, and other aviation enthusiasts, are geeks because their fandom ends with aviation. While engineers, and many others, are nerds because their obsession extends to mathematics, science, engineering and aviation.
Multiplayer or Solo Games?
Geeks can be very social, and the games they play reflect this. You’ll find them ‘geeking’ out on Magic the Gathering in the backrooms of comic book shops. Geeks aren’t afraid to put themselves out there socially when it comes to games.
Alternatively, nerds are often loners. They enjoy solitary games that stimulate their intellectual prowess. A flight simulator, like the Elite flight simulator from PilotMall, is a great example of a game a nerd would play because it’s solo, science based, and explores an interesting hobby.
It’s a Fine Line
Stereotypes, such as geek and nerd, cannot always be defined. A person isn’t always just one single thing. Not all scientists are like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is the quintessential example of a nerd, while his consorts are a rag-tag mix of part nerd-part geek. Sheldon’s friends are better examples of real-world intelligent-types. They’re neither geek nor nerd, but rather an eclectic mix of both.