Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blog Post 3: Geek is the new cool.

I decided to choose the term “geek”. Although I am one myself, I really did not know much of its definition (I often confuse "geeks" with "nerds") and etymology. Interestingly, the term geek has once embraced negative connotations but turned to a more positive term today.

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, in 1916, the term geek was once used to describe crazy people or “slideshow freaks” in the circus. They would bite off chicken heads and rats. The term also possibly derived from the German word “geck”, describing the person as a fool or simpleton in the 1950s. Then, around the 1980s, the meaning of the term geek changed thanks to the era of technology and computers. The once scary label then became a slang for teenagers who lacked social skills and were obsessed with computers and technology. Additionally, I also found out that the term was also applied to people who were obsessed with a particular hobby or intellectual subjects in academics according to Wikipedia's definition of geek. For example, a person could be an art geek, film geek, and physics geek to contrary belief that there are only computer geeks (which is understandable since the positive connotations did start with the computer era). A “geek” also does not conform to society and prefers to invest their time on their subjects of interest rather than seeking social acceptance. In other words, “geeks” can be seen as weird or odd individuals too.

At this point, some people might start thinking that the term geek is similar, or even a synonym of the terms “nerd”, “dork”, or even “hipsters” (usually more closely associated with "geeks"). Even though all these labels share somewhat of a similarity and might even overlap each other, there is a difference. Specifically, “nerd” is someone who has a high IQ and academically smart. A “dork” is someone who is clueless and silly, and “hipsters” are usually people who are interested in new things and try to be somewhat cool, which may be confused easily with "geeks" since technology geeks are interested and may even own the newest gadgets like the "hipsters", according to a post in the English Language & Usage website.

I also found out that according to an author from the website Kuro5hin, there is a disorder called Asperger’s syndrome which is also known as the “geek syndrome” or "the cousin of autism". The author starts to describe the symptoms of “geek syndrome” (also nicknamed “aspies”, in short for Asperger) and uses himself and as example to support his condition. Users with the syndrome are usually anti-social, monotonous, literal and humorless (but somewhat sarcastic), have trouble interpreting facial expressions, have sensory issues, and also showing signs of all of other disorders such as attention deficit disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. All this sounds too familiar and it reminds us of Dr. Temple Grandin’s clip about people who are affected by autism. Even though people who are affected by disorders or illnesses can sometimes have trouble fitting into our society’s standards, in no way that means that the people in question are inferior or even “retarded” because they are different than “normal” individuals. There are all kinds of minds out there, as Dr.Grandin has mentioned, and our system needs to be more flexible in order to cultivate these particular minds. So, although “geeks” may have Asperger’s syndrome and feel being shamed of being branded with this medical label, attention needs to be paid more to the fact that people are different and society needs to adapt the to the differences between human beings.

As I have mentioned earlier, “geeks” was once described as “freaks”, but presently the term refers to those who are anti-social or very knowledgeable in a particular field or hobby. The term has changed to a more positive connotation, in other words, the “geeks” have reclaimed their word. “Geeks” now have pride in their knowledge and skills and even use the label freely around their community (however, if used by outsiders, it may be considered an insult according to Urban Dictionary). Their pride even includes feelings such as revenge and content since they were once considered as outsiders, but now somewhat respected. For example, “the people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult” was used as an example to define the term “geek” on Urban Dictionary. The dominance hierarchy has switched during the transition from youth to adulthood, apparently. Also, since “geeks” seem to have “Asperger’s syndrome”, bearing a medical label can devaluate an individual. However, it seems as if “geeks” now have so much pride in themselves that syndromes, disorders, and other negative assumptions will not affect their individuality and will even use the term “geek” within their community. They have learned to not adopt and accept the negative connotations from the term “geek”, just as the Duke family have use words such as “stupid” without internalizing the negative label, from the reading “You’re Not a Retard, You’re Just Wise” by Taylor (as cited in Thio, Calhoun, and Conyers, 2010) . Additionally, just like the queer community, the word “geek” has been reclaimed and most geeks feel very proud of their own community. In contrary to the disabled community, a post from "bitchmedia" advises the public to not use terms such as “lame”. The “geeks” do not seem to mind though even if they are aware of the negative connotations that once existed because the word "geek" now has a new meaning. This can be seen especially in our everyday lives, such as the “Geek Squad” from the electronic store BestBuy. Even fashion has now embraced the “geekness”. For example, an online jewelry & art store Shana Logic (awesome store, by the way) is selling a necklace with a red 8-bit heart and a heart necklace with an integrated Lego piece. For those who hang around the Internet often, I’m sure you would recognize “Nyan Cat”, a recent popular internet meme that became a commodity on your finger.

As a final note, a person may be picturing an overweight white male as a computer geek while reading my post. I’d like to remind all of us that there are geeks of all colors, size, gender, and of various hobbies (not just computers which seems to be the default).

I would have put up a picture of myself when I was 5 years old holding the original Nintendo controller, wearing a pink dress and white tights as a girl playing video games without any signs of sexualization (which is a whole other issue about women & gaming).
But, unfortunately, I left that picture at home.

Word Count: 1,134


Thio, Alex, Thomas C. Calhoun, and Addrain Conyers. 2010. Readings in Deviant Behavior. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


  1. Interesting post.I though of "Geek squad" from Best buy when I start to read your post blog. Now I know the word "Geek" derived originally from German;and with more than one meaning.What is so fanny about Geek is the way people constructed it meaning from time to time. It was first crazy, freak, fool;and weird to people who are obsessed with their hobbies. I think you have cited the right book. finally, the pictures give good explanation of what "Geek" is about.
    Thio, Alex, Thomas C. Calhoun, and Addrain Conyers. 2010. Readings in Deviant Behavior. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

  2. Agree
    I think you did a great job. The visuals you had were good and appropriate. I also liked your clarification between the terms dork, nerd, hipster and geek. I also liked how you tied in the Temple Grandin clip. Whether a geek has aspergers or not they are often seen as being socially awkward. I liked in that clip when Ms. Grandin showed the scan of her brain compared to ‘normal’ brain. Often when the body including the brain is lacking in one area it over compensates and is stronger in other areas. Also, I personally had thought that to be labeled a geek a person had to be good with computers or technology. I think it’s great that is not necessarily the case. I guess I could be called a sociology geek.
    Temple Grandin – “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds”

  3. Agree
    I think geek is a great word to use for this type of discussion. The connotations attached to 'geek' has changed a lot over time. A lot of this is because main stream society has begun to embrace the types of behavior that used to be seen as deviant. Technology users, particularly computer wizzes, have started to gain a lot more acceptance as computers and other high end technological devices have become more widely used. In the movie "Tough Guise" Jackson Katz explains how we focus on the subordinate groups in society and look over the dominant group. It is interesting how words slowly evolve as group dominance begins to transition from one cohort to the next. Geeks are beginning to run society, and with it, the negative connotations connected with words describing the technological elite have begun to dwindle away.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed learning about some of the history behind the word. Nice job.

    Tough Guise, 1999, Jason Katzman

  4. Agree.
    You did an excellent job of discussing both the history and modern usage of the word "geek." Although the word may be seen as more of a positive than in times past, your mention of Asberger's Syndrome being referred to as "The Geek Syndrome" reminded me of our readings asserting that slang terms shouldn't be used to describe conditions or disabilities as this could be offensive to some. As discussed in the article "What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?", "continued use of these terms reinforces existing cultural and societal stereotypes about people with disabilities and their presumed lack of worth" (Bitch Media). I think that there is still a difference between somebody calling themselves a "geek" and referring to somebody else that way because of behaviors associated with a particular condition.

    Amy Gambill

    "The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?" BitchMedia, 2010.