Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Geeks vs Nerds

I am a geek. I am obsessed with sci-fi. I own and watch anime. I wear “clever” t-shirts that need to be explained to some people. I have a list of things I would dress as at a con (and some of the pieces for each). I have owned and displayed action figures and comic books. I have been known to incessantly make pop-culture references regardless of whether or not the people I’m talking to will get it. I take personal offense when horrible movies are made in conjunction with amazing classics – I’m looking at you, Star Wars I, II & III. As soon as I finish watching the series finale of a show (i.e. Firefly, BSG, etc), I make plans to rewatch the series in its entirety [aside: BSG is on the border. I loved the series as a whole, but still hold a grudge over the series finale.]. I play video games and rarely get outside during daylight because of my internet addiction.

That being said, I’m not a nerd. Make a more-than-entry-level science reference and I need to look it up. I never took higher than Algebra II. I don’t know how to program, code or even set the instant brewer on the coffee pot. I am not pursuing a career based in science (although honestly Accounting is rather nerdy in its own right). I appreciate science and love to learn about it, but I don’t understand most of it at this point.

Everyone has their own definition of nerd, geek, dork, etc… What I’ve itemized above is simply my own interpretation of two of them.

How do you define yourself based on social stigmas? Are you a nerd? A geek? A dork? A poindexter? None of the above? What are your interpretations of each of them? Do they even warrant separate definitions or do you lump them all together?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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  1. I am a used bookdealer. It is lifestyle that combines obsessive research, technical jargon unknown to the layman, and collecting.

    Basically it’s a subset of nerd.

  2. I’m a spaz, wannabe nerd with geek tendencies.
    I love all things Sci-fi and science, but I don’t find myself becoming overly obsessive. It’s a negative trait when it comes to learning real science. When socially panicked I can say terribly inappropriate things. It the main reason I surround myself with people who like hearing terribly inappropriate things.

  3. I’ll take a crack at it:

    nerd: Someone with an unusually keen interest in a narrow topic. Nerds come in all flavors: video game nerds, computer nerds, and even weather nerds.

    dork: Someone with poor social skills. Some nerds are dorks, but in my experience most aren’t.

    geek: Hard to separate from nerd. I think geek carries a connotation of someone who delights in trivia and arcana.

    poindexter: I’ve only heard this used as a pejorative for someone who is smarter than you.

    I define myself as mostly nerd. Also a wise ass, iconoclast, know it all, and in unguarded moments jackass.

  4. @Im a Hedge: A’s was a deeper question than mine. I’m talking more pocket protectors and taped-up glasses.


    When socially panicked I can say terribly inappropriate things.

    Me too! I have awful social anxiety and if I don’t have my medicine, which keeps me under control, I have the unfortunate ability of pissing off everyone around me.


    poindexter: I’ve only heard this used as a pejorative for someone who is smarter than you.

    :D I threw that one in there for fun. All of the nicknaming made me think of the different levels of Toejam & Earl for Sega Genesis, Poindexter being one of them.

    @Kimbo Jones:

    Re BSG: I plan to rewatch up to Season 4 Episode 11-ish and stop. It’s for the best.

    So say we all.

  5. I am a life long computer boy…and I happen to do it for a living..(Director of IT for a local government). But I have always been a science geek, and a voracious reader of anything. Love music and play about 5 different instruments but never out and about, just for my own pleasure. Love watching the stars and planets and birds, etc. I am just get jammed about anything in nature. Never got into the games, etc though. I think I would be a gerd or maybe a neek…. or perhaps a gerdneek. But I am not a Hedge because someone else is already not a Hedge!

  6. @fatewilleatyou:

    I’ll see your terribly inappropriate things and raise you. Just last week I sat with a former co-worker and friend whose brother-in-law shot himself right in front of her sister. Her whole family is devastated and crushed. We sat and talked for hours, she cried, I may have had something in my eye, all in all it was cathartic for everyone. As we’re departing I make an off hand joke about her going around shooting people to avoid lunch dates with me (and another coworker).

    Yup, great timing on that one. I cannot explain the complexity of fitting my entire foot in my mouth, but I manage it much too often.

  7. I stole this from Neil DeGrasse Tyson because it described me so well.

    “I’m a nerd but I’m the nerd who can kick your ass.”

    Chelsa, you’re an accountant also? Kick ass. Just finsihed 30 hours of work on a compilation.

  8. I used to think that geek and nerd were synonymous, but popular usage tends to apply geek to people proficient with technology (many of whom lack social skill) and nerd to people who are bookish and lack social skills. I guess that’s fine with me. I tend to think of labels like that as just sort of general guides and don’t assume that the attributes normally associated with said label necessarily apply to the individual in question.

  9. I think I’m a nerd-sampler. I like just a little bit out of each nerd category, and I never get too involved in one category. I like Runescape and a few other games (like Kingdom of Loathing), but I wouldn’t consider myself a “gamer” because I don’t play any other MMORPGs.

    I like to play Dungeons & Dragons, but not any other related games that my D&D buddies are into. I have no interest in LARPing.

    I read a lot of fantasy novels, but very few science fiction books.

    I like to collect and build pyramids with Legos, but I don’t build anything else with them.

    I play Super Mario on my vintage SuperNintendo, but I have no interest in any other games or newer game systems.

    I also absolutely hate typical conversations and I prefer talk about unusual stuff. I’m always grateful to meet someone who doesn’t give me a weird look when I say that I think slime molds and diatoms are fascinating. Yes, even in my bio classes when others knew what I was talking about, they’d slowly back away from that conversation.

    But in spite of my unusual conversational preferences, I don’t think I’m socially awkward at all. I don’t feel awkward when people talk about sports or celebrities; I just feel extremely bored.

    I don’t think I fit well into any of those categories.

  10. @catgirl: You know that’s a good point. Sometimes I get that awkward feeling because I’m talking about things that are perfectly normal to me but that the other people are apparently not interested in. But I’m not interested in horoscopes and vapid gossip, yet people often insist on talking about those things because they’re not so “serious”. So who are the socially awkward ones?

  11. @catgirl: @Kimbo Jones: That is a good point. I know I’m socially awkward because I literally have a panic attack when I’m in huge crowds. But as far as conversations in a smaller group, I only get that feeling when I’m being forced to talk about something I have no interest in.

  12. @Chelsea:
    “I only get that feeling when I’m being forced to talk about something I have no interest in.”

    And then, do you also feel like you aren’t doing enough to seem like you care, and everyone can tell that you are a total jerk, and then you freak out and say something so random that completely alienates you from the conversation?

    Not me, of course… :p

  13. Going by your definitions in the topic here, I would be both a geek and a nerd. I fit almost all of the criteria you listed for being a geek, but I also hold a B.S. in chemistry and am pursuing a doctorate in it.

    (As an aside, I’m also in my office in the lab right now, and someone down the hall has cracked open a bottle of thiol for something, so it smells like a pissed off skunk in here.)

    I usually define a geek as someone’s who’s deeply interested in learning, either in a focused way, or just learning everything they can. I usually define a nerd as someone with that quality, but no social skills to go with it. A dork would be somebody with neither, and a poindexter would be a synonym for geek for me.

    That’s how I see it, at least!

  14. I call myself a “nerd” and refer to myself as “nerdy”. To me, it defines a general disposition: socially awkward, bookish, cerebral.

    When I use the term “geek”, it’s almost always qualified with a subject (e.g. math geek, scifi geek, comic book geek) and indicates an obsession with a niche subject. So I’d call myself a “science geek”, for example but not just a “geek”.

    So, it’s possible to be a geek without being a nerd (say, an abstract art geek). It’s also possible to be a nerd without being a geek although that doesn’t seem to happen very often.

  15. I was going to answer this, but something occured to me…

    During AI: Rationalist? Skeptic? Bright? oh, my. we talked about labels and how terms such as rationalist, skeptic, and atheist can be seen be some as being “negative”. It wasn’t too long before that nerd, geek and dork was a social death sentence to anyone labeled as such.

    What do you think changed in our culture to make this more positive? The advance of technology and what it brings to the world at large? The growing interconnectedness of formerly lone “dweebs” that rely on theis same technology? Or, maybe, it’s just a trend that happened?

    Oh, for the record: Geek…

  16. @MiddleMan: I think it was mostly technology. When those sad shut-in geeks were suddenly running the world because they spent their Friday nights learning FORTRAN instead of hanging out with friends, and could design a system to run a bank a few years down the line.

    Similar case for all the gadget inventors that took the technology as it stood and said, “Hey, we could use that for….”

  17. @catgirl: You’re about the only one I’ve known who actually find this interesting…

    And I totally agree! I even used that same point when a creationist I was debating on the street brought up that he didn’t understand how us multi-cellular organisms with individual organs cam from unicellular life! Siphonophores like Man’o’wars argue the same point!

  18. @Chelsea:
    How do you manage to finish an accounting degree without going past Algebra II?

    Me? I’m a lifelong geek. I love sci-fi books and TV shows (though no interest in anime or comic books), play pen and paper role playing games, was massively involved in marching band (baritone horn), and I’m a mechanical engineer.

  19. I’m none of the above. I’m more of a fan of science than I am “into” science. I honestly think I have a math-related learning disability (is there a dyslexia for math?) I’m not really into sci-fi. I don’t play a lot of video games… I’ve only been into one of those D&D supply shops once, and it was while shopping for a gift for my husband’s friend while we were in Paris. I couldn’t program my way out of a VCR with a manual and a walk through.

    But I do spend a shit ton of time on the internet. And I giggle at fart jokes.

    I guess I’m more of a shlub.

  20. @sowellfan: Well I’m not done yet. I’ve taken statistics and economics, but not mathy math since my first year of college. This coming semester will be all math I think. I’m a glutton for punishment! And also a procrastinator.

  21. @Elyse: I’ve only been into one of those D&D supply shops once, and it was while shopping for a gift for my husband’s friend while we were in Paris.

    Wait… Did you buy French editions of D&D? If so, cool. 8)

  22. I don’t think of myself as any of those. In fact I’m pretty much against those kind of names in general. Trying to lump people in one category or another always reminds me of some bad 80’s movie (I’m looking at you The Breakfast Club). But if I had to be something I’d be the weird artsy girl that no one really gets. Except people generally like me and don’t realize how weird I am until they get to know me.

  23. @MiddleMan:

    I don’t know what he bought.

    I just remember being really uncomfortable. There was a live game going on in the shop… my husband and I walked in… and they looked at him in awe as he browsed the store with a pregnant woman at his side. I didn’t have to speak French to know that they wanted him to tell them what to roll to acquire women skills.

  24. @Elyse:

    “I honestly think I have a math-related learning disability (is there a dyslexia for math?) ”

    If you find something, let me know.. This past summer semester was an interesting exercise for me in how people absorb math differently.. I’m really no good at it, coupled with test anxiety… while I DID pass my pre-calculus class, mathematics is what has been scaring me away from a science-related degree.. they demand a lot (imo) just for biology!

  25. @MiddleMan:

    It is surprisingly relevant on a philosophical level to many issues, including abortion and vegetarianism. However, slime molds are even weirder than the Portuguese man’o’war because they don’t even have distinct cells for a large part of their life cycle.

  26. @Elyse:

    I didn’t have to speak French to know that they wanted him to tell them what to roll to acquire women skills.

    Oooooh, bad! No cookie for you, Elyse! I’m sure our European cousins are better at attracting girls that American Geeks.

    Oh, who am I kidding…

    I wonder what’s French for, “I waste him with my crossbow!”

  27. I would definitely self-identify as a geek as well as a nerd (say it loud, say it proud!). On occasion, I am also a dork (or so my wife tells me) but that usually is a label applied immediately after I have done something remarkably silly and/or stupid.

    For the record, I am happy to be considered a geek since according to the Skeptical Beatitudes (delivered during the Sermon In The Lab) “The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth”.

  28. @catgirl: You’re right, of course, but they do go through individual changes when creating fruiting bodies for colonizing new areas. Man’o’wars are just colonies of differentiated individuals.

    I wonder, are there any living creatures that follow paths somewhere in-between?

  29. I have a geek code, although it’s not updated. I got the result King of Nerds on version 2.o of some nerd test. And in my everyday language nerd is a loan word from English, with even less of an agreed upon definition than it has in English.

    Like Steve, I find geek to be lacking without a specifier, like chemistry geek, and I’m a geek of all trades, master of none. So my label of choice is nerd, and I don’t consider it a social stigma at all.

    To describe someone who is, for instance, socially awkward and overly interested in a narrow topic, I’d have to describe them as socially awkward and overly interested in a narrow topic as I don’t have any words that encompass those meanings in my interpretation.

  30. Rather than trying to define my nerdiness/geekdom by some sort of descriptor, I’ve taken to just calling myself “better than you.” It’s generally true in relation to the people I’m forced to deal with every day.

  31. When it comes right down to it I am an Idiot. Not a Nerd Geek or any thing of the like. Just your plain old run of the mill idiot. I have learned to accept it and am now comfortable with it.

  32. I like to call some of the people at work “sports nerds” They will watch sports and ESPN news all day if they could and will talk about sports stats all day. I mean I like to watch and play sports, but man enough is enough. They give me a look when I call them that too. They don’t quite know how to take it.

  33. Well, I just spent the car ride up the coast for my anniversary get-away reading the owners manual for my camera (just for fun). I have already read it… so there you have it. I am a total art/craft geek girl. Did you know you can use the “bulb” setting to take photos of the moon? Rad.

  34. Lets see…

    Majored in physics, was in the Nuclear Power program in the Navy, got a second degree in computer science, worked as a programmer, trainer, administrator of computers/networks, now back in school to be a physics teacher.

    Sounds like this could swing either way.
    Played rugby, ran some marathons, and is not a virgin.


  35. Nerd, totally a nerd. I’m usually reading about six books at the same time, I read the magazines for the articles, I DVR all the science and history stuff that comes across the cable channels… Most of our friends know that when we have a difference of opinion, I’m going to be the one who is proved right in the end -mostly because I can Google/Snopes/WhatsTheHarm that sh*t like nobody’s business.
    I’m a Star Wars geek (IV, V and VI only, thanks!) but not Star Trek. No D&D, no Comic Con, no collectibles to speak of -though I did dress up as Leia for Halloween one year (awards ceremony Leia, not Jaba’s barge Leia -I was 13, snap out of it, boys!). I don’t get down with the geek thing as a rule, my glasses are more “sexy librarian” than “masking tape” and my clothes do not incorporate plaid -unless there are skulls there, too.
    Maybe “egghead” is a better description?

  36. I’m totally a geek. I spend much of my afternoon inside of a pen chasing chickens and when I catch them, biting their heads off.

    @Kimbo Jones:
    Better than that is the simultaneously funny and horrible Trolls 2.

    Well, they may be that but at least they aren’t Bloodrayne. Or any other Uwe Boll film for that matter.

  37. I’m an economics nerd, which makes me a little unusual by nerd standards. Though economics and nerdishness go surprisingly well together.

  38. I’ve always been proud of being a science nerd for some reason. (“Most Scientific Guy” in high school. Since then? Graduate degree in Physics, currently working at Argonne National Laboratory, and officially an (announcer voice) Award Winning Inventor. Yeah, not much has changed there, I’m still a nerd :) )

    As for sci-fi TV, I’m more of a Babylon 5 person.

    Social skills? um… well… I uh.. have friends. Really. Honest! No dating recently, but that’s more because I’ve been working on this robotics project for some extra cash and just haven’t had a lot of spare time. Dating requires time. How will I find time to read blogs if I’m dating??

  39. @Elyse: I’m a crazy D&D guy myself, and I can sympathize with you somewhat; some stores just attract a really creepy crowd.

    On the other hand, my local game store has a hot cashier, and I’ve never seen anyone so much as look at her funny. C’est la vie.

  40. My friends refer to me as both, even though I have never used those labels to describe myself.

    I do have a few friends who consider themselves geeks in the highest regards and we share many of the same interests. However, and this is just in reference to my friends, they will spend an entire day playing video games. I simply cannot spend that much time indoors.

  41. I prefer to think of myself as God-King of the Frog People. But it’s only because they keep prostrating themselves before my divine visage. (At least I think that’s what they’re doing. Frog People chanting is notoriously difficult to translate.)

  42. @Gabrielbrawley: I am under thirty… but I do know a lot of people my age that love those kinds of movies. Most of them were exposed to them at a young age though. I think that’s the key. Part of loving those movies is remembering how they made you feel when you were a troubled or lonely teen.

  43. @Pinkbunny: That could very well be true. When I saw them I was the sad and lonely teenager who was so amazed to see people in movies that seemed to understand. I am so glad those days are over.

    I have often said that people who wish they were back in high school don’t remember high school.

  44. @Some Canadian Skeptic:

    I had missed that, as that thread didn’t interest me. But after reading that, I must say, I am so glad you post here. I now look forward to your posts in just the same way I used to look forward to the newest of the late and lamented Opus cartoons: Frothy, pithy, comic, and wise.


    PS. I also really enjoy your cosmic photos.

  45. well, I have a bookshelf dedicated just to roleplaying games, tattoos of an NES controller and a d20, I made my own dice bag out of chainmail, I build computers and work in the tech industry, designed my own paper RPG (coming soon), and own well over a thousand books. so which one of those monikers best suits me? No idea but I was considering getting “Nerd Life” tattooed on my knuckles…

  46. @Some Canadian Skeptic: Damn, the first half of the dork description and the bit about Civ 4 I can get behind as describing me, but I don’t drink vodka lemonade coolers. Give me a Glen Morangie or Balvenie any day. I am not above blended whiskeys either, Crown Royal is pretty damn good, and I love a good Bourbon. But I am totally into the Single Malts. I am also partial to good full body, hoppy beers. IPAs and the Arrogant Bastard. Love Guiness and Fat Tire and Moose Drool as well.

  47. I’d define a nerd as someone who is obsessed with something, i.e. science nerd, Xbox nerd, Internet nerd, etc.. and a geek as someone who is exceptionally smart. I have been referred to as geek many a time, and am quite proud of it.

  48. I like to think of myself as a mess of contradictions:
    – a Christian skeptic yogi.
    – a pragmatic extremist.
    – an unsociable people-person.
    – a highly talented computer programmer with good business sense.

    Maybe I’m getting to old (and hopefully wise?) to think that putting people in limiting categories makes sense.

  49. I’m not sure I fully understand the categories.
    I love comics, games and sci-fi. I’m also good at math and understand a lot of science (even though I work with IT and graphic design – I read about science for fun).
    Maybe I’m a neek. Or a gerk. Or a deek or a gork or a dord or a nork. The possibilities are endless. Well, OK, they’re not endless, I just don’t feel like calculating the exact number right now. So apparently, I’m not that much of a gerk.

    Also: My first post. Woo.

  50. I saw these definitions on I think the original author is Paul Graham.

    A geek is someone who thinks that programming, or learning differential calculus, or studying up on the finer points of contract law, etc. are fun ways to spend a saturday night. Geeks think that doing intellectual difficult tasks is fun. A couple caveats: 1) memorizing trivia doesn’t count, otherwise idiot savants would be considered geeks. 2) It must be possible to objectively judge the fruits of the intellectually difficult task; film criticism doesn’t count.

    A nerd is someone who invests zero effort in marketing themselves. The result is that nerds wear ugly but utilitarian clothes/glasses/etc.

    Geek/Nerd traits tend to occur together in the same person and also reinforce each other. They both tend to make it hard to get laid.

  51. I’m a proud geek! I consider myself to be pretty social and i love going to Sci Fi or Horror conventions. I will also cosplay sometimes. I am really into movies, books, and video games. I got to follow the latest news online usually, especially the horror news. I do work as a database technician for a living too. I spend most of the day usually on a computer and i get the back pains and carpal tunnel as a side effect. I may be social, but usually only with those i know i can be comfortable around. I am very rarely known to walk up to people i don’t know and strike up a conversation.

  52. OK, I did the math anyway: Using the words Geek, Dork and Nerd and assuming letters will always stay in the same position on the word, there are 24 possible combinations.

    I’m not sure which of those 24 that makes me.

    (These are the combinations: geek, geed, gerk, gerd, goek, gork, gord, goed, neek, need, nerk, nerd, noek, nork, nord, noed, deek, deed, derk, derd, doek, dork, dord, doed)

    OK, I think I prefer “Nork”

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