Geeks and nerds

November 22,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Did you know that there's a difference between a geek and a nerd? I hadn't given the topic much thought, until L. brought it to my attention the other day. He is, in his own particular way, struggling to define himself and understand where and how he fits into the social landscape of his new school. I think he was entirely unable to do this in elementary school. He saw himself only as not fitting in, and being "other" and he had no positive way to define himself in relationship to his peers. But now, I don't think he feels like an outsider--at least I truly hope he doesn't. While he might be still trying to find his place, as all 6th graders are, he does see that he has a place, and this is a big thing for him.

Last week he mentioned a kid in his German class, a friend of his. "He's a geek," L. said. "And he's so funny."

"Oh?"

"All my friends are geeks. Geeks get good grades, but they're also cool in ways."

 "Isn't a geek a nerd?" I asked. I really thought they were interchangeable, silly me.

L. then proceeded to outline all the differences that exist between geeks and nerds. While nerds are interesting people, he concluded, geeks have a clear edge over them.

"Which one are you?" I asked.

"A geek," he said."I definitely would say I'm a geek."

When I was in middle school, neither one of those categories would have been socially acceptable. I'm not sure where I would have fit in, but I suspect my allegiance would have fallen more to the nerd side. Things may be very different in schools today than they were in those older, golden days we like to constantly extol, through rose-tinted glasses. But I do think many things have changed for the better. I think the world has become more accepting of difference, of those of us who might be quirky, and bookish, and poor at sports, and geeky (or nerdy) in our own eclectic ways. I think we've seen enough success stories come from those people--those off-beat movers and shakers, to recognize that those are the qualities to admire and celebrate.

Rock on, geeks and nerds. I'm so glad you're out there.