John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dork, dork, geek

The terms dweeb, dork, geek, and nerd tend to be flung about carelessly, with very little discrimination about shades of meaning. Happily, an attempt has been made to settle this nice point of taxonomy by classifying the four types by combinations of three variables: intelligence, obsession, and social ineptitude.

Geek: intelligence + obsession
Dork: obsession + social ineptitude
Dweeb: intelligence + social ineptitude
Nerd: all three

The distinctions can be displayed visually in a Venn diagram posted by Scott Beale in September, from which I have gratefully derived this post.

I leave it to you to determine which category is most appropriate for grammarians and usage mavens.

14 comments:

  1. Researched, written, and posted, incidentally, while waiting for someone at the unemployment office to answer the telephone. Sixty-four minutes and still ringing.

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  2. Dorks merit repetition in a headline and dweebs get omitted?

    Glad I am a dork. Dork FTW!

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  3. Perhaps they should hire someone to answer the phones for them...

    Geek has moved completely out of the realm of social outcast for me, and nerd is almost there. The two seem to be colliding in meaning.

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  4. Other taxonomic categories:
    Poindexter
    Pencil-neck
    Whistle-dick


    Also, hygiene--or lack thereof--is a factor in identifying some specimens. Geeks and nerds, for example, don't shower regularly, having forgotten to or having placed bathing on a lower priority than, say, backing up their computer hard drives for the fourth time today. Dorks and dweebs, on the other hand, shower two to three times a day, believing, incorrectly, that the smells of Irish Spring soap and Prell shampoo will enhance their chances with the opposite sex.

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  5. Well done; at least I got it.

    Tangentially speaking, I'm pretty sure Kurt Vonnegut clarified the distinction between "dweeb" and "twerp" somewhere in his writings. I'll not try to reproduce his earthy humor here, but those interested in the classics might try to find the passage for their own amusement.

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  6. Makes one wonder what characteristics were associated with being a nerd in its first appearance as a word in Dr. Seuss's 1950 "If I Ran the Zoo."

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  7. I fall right into Nerd territory, especially after reading Anonymous' comment above and reading it as "Perl shampoo"

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  8. Patricia the TerseDecember 3, 2009 at 1:00 AM

    Prell, Mavila, Prell! It's deep green, and unlike most brands of shampoo, has not changed its color or aroma over the years. As for Irish Spring soap, the commercials alone kept me away from it, and probably with good reason.

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  9. I think this conversation qualifies us all as geeks at least.
    I'd always thought of geekdom as referring to expertise (particularly in computers) and have declared myself a grammar geek and a nerd in the past.
    I disavow the non-bathing aspect, however...

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  10. After the movie Revenge of the Nerds came out, I called myself a nerd with pride. At some point, I shifted to calling myself a geek, still with pride. I know that it originally meant someone who bit the heads off live chickens in sideshows, but then again marshal once meant 'stable boy'.

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  11. "Twerp" actually has a traceable etymology: it was the nickname of one T.W. Earp. Tolkien referred to him as "the original twerp" in one of his published letters (#95, for those of you following along at home). Here's one of his decadent poems: you can judge its twerpiness for yourself.

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  12. At college (back in the '80s) we had a slightly simpler version: geeks are weird but smart; nerds are weird but dumb. Due to this, I've always been quite happy to self-identify as a geek.

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