So, a few days ago, I had this entry written in its entirety, but some hiccup in the intertubes wiped the whole thing out, and I’ve only just now had a chance to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. Still, I suspect at least one individual in particular (cough eksith cough), if not more, will be interested given the title. 😉
Believe it or not, this entry doesn’t have to do with the age-old editor war; at least, not directly. A few weeks ago, I played a small part in a debate on Twitter that began well before I entered the scene and continued after my departure, involving the meanings and correct applications of the words “geek” vs “nerd”. Briefly, I saw the debate and voiced my opinion that I had long heard “nerd” was the preferable term – indicating someone who was passionate about their vocation, not even necessarily implying technical expertise – and “geek” was the more derogatory term, often delineated by a tangible lack of social graces.
Both the person I targeted my post at, plus another individual I’d never met or heard of, corrected me rather vehemently, stating my definitions were reversed, and that a “geek” was the top of the proverbial totem pole.
Somewhat surprised by the intensity of the responses and the continuing “debate” (it’s actually a misnomer, since everyone was in passionate agreement that “geek” was the superior term, ad nauseum), I decided to do some digging of my own.
Given that what was at stake was the meaning between two words, my first destination was a dictionary. I wasn’t expecting to find much, but at the very least, something to point me in another direction. Interestingly enough, I didn’t really even get that.
- Nerd encapsulates the passion and vocational knowledge, but also unattractiveness, tendency to irritate, and a general aversion to things not immediately related to one’s devotion.
- Geek implies much the same: accomplished skills in one’s domain, but a lack of graces beyond that. And as an added bonus: someone who bites off the heads of chickens.
Literal definitions didn’t yield much in the way of favoring one side of the debate over the other, but it did reveal one very important item to keep in mind: the debate is entirely subjective. There is not going to be an objective, definitive labeling either way, so the only real conclusion to this debate is to see if one side is, in general, favored over the other from a standpoint of connotation.
The next place to look would be the intertubes at large. It is immediately obvious from search results that this debate has been raging for awhile, admittedly with less visibility than the aforementioned editor war, but with apparently no lesser degree of tenacity. My findings, though, were just as inconclusive as the dictionary search:
- This guy, while calling himself a geek, doesn’t present either concept in a very appealing light. Geeks are social outcasts, and anyone labeled a “nerd” is worthy of derision.
- This lawyer also labels both terms as derogatory, and delineates the two by action: nerds have high IQs, and geeks devote themselves tirelessly to their vocations. But he doesn’t see them as mutually exclusive, a key point I’ll come back to later.
- Finally, a blogger who puts “geek” above “nerd”: nerds are much more specialized, to the detriment of all else, while geeks maintain competence both in their fields and with interpersonal relationships. Though he could use a course in spelling and grammar.
- A Slashdot article explores this topic, and if you try to garner a consensus from the comments…well, you’ll be “garnering” for the rest of your life.
- This person sticks with the mantra I heard on Twitter: geeks as a balanced inception of passion, intelligence, and social graces, and a nerd as one of those three to the extreme at the expense of the other two. Though pay attention to the first comment: that person asserts there is an overlap.
- Someone who posted something along the same lines as this: a comparison of the two, and he comes to the same conclusion – that there isn’t a clear delineation between the two terms. Not in objective reference, nor in subjective forums.
- …and so on
Throughout this substantial amount of information – some denigrating both terms, some praising one and deriding the other, some stating overlap between the two – there is one thing that is constant: these are all opinions. Nothing offers any empirical evidence as to why the person believes as they do (which isn’t surprising, considering there isn’t any!).
I am left, then, to conclude what I had originally hypothesized: the debate is simply a matter of semantics. There is certainly something to be said for the concept of the debate, in that a balance between social graces and vocational expertise is the golden ideal. But this is just a modern rehash of a concept which has been with us since Ancient Greece. And to vehemently argue for one specific term over the other, even when an individual purports the same concepts but in reverse, seems to me like someone ferociously arguing for emacs over vim: it’s never going to happen.
The editor war isn’t a war at all; it’s simply people with different preferences using what works best for them. Hell, it’s the foundational concept of open source in practice. Those who prefer key combinations “ctrl+alt+del+s+h+i+t” use emacs; those who prefer to switch between multiple modes “command-insert-takeovertheworld” use vim. One isn’t “better” than the other. One isn’t “right” and the other “wrong”. In concept, both editors are perfect. It’s a broader picture that zealots often miss. There is certainly a lot to be said about passionate devotion to one’s craft, but with it can come a loss of perspective.
Therefore, I argue that those who purport one term over the other and call themselves “geeks” a la the golden mean between social graces and technical skills should re-evaluate their application of that golden mean – seems a bit hypocritical to assert themselves the very definition of “balance” when they so vehemently defend a rigid dichotomy of concepts.
Speaking of hypocrisy: