What is a Geek?

Smartpedia: A geek is a person with a passionate interest in a subject. Often the person is perceived as an expert and/or fan.

Geek – a person with a particularly strong interest in a subject

A geek is an intelligent person who is interested in a particular subject area, such as computers, science or technology, and knows a great deal about it.1 This person is perceived as a contact person for the subject area, also because he/she is often one of the first or early adopters of new technologies.2

Anyone who studies geeks will quickly realise that numerous attributes are ascribed to the term – similar to the term nerd. But just because a person is particularly intensively and passionately engaged with a subject area over a longer period of time – and that could indeed be any subject complex even far apart from computers, technology, the future, science fiction, comics, pop culture, TV series, films, etc. – he or she does not have to be intelligent, work in the IT industry, or be socially incompatible. Being involved with the subject area may make someone an expert or a “special” fan. This can be recognised by expressions like

  • Gadget Geek (early adopter of new technologies, operating systems or prototypes),
  • Pure Geek (likes to do without anything “unnecessary” and, for example, accesses computer functions via command line),
  • GIT (Geek of Internet Technology, knows everything about the Internet, Internet of Things, etc.)

or, for example, in the course of cosplay events.3

The image of geeks

Originally, the term geek was used negatively. It is based on the Middle Low German “Geck”, a term for fools or fools, and established itself as a US slang word in the 19th and 20th centuries for fairground and circus performers who put on outlandish displays. This public display is the basis for the image that geeks, unlike nerds, seek publicity.

The originally negative image is also expressed in various synonyms such as goon.

  • goon,
  • dork,
  • weirdo,
  • freak or
  • techie.4

Nowadays, the term no longer automatically has negative connotations. In a way, it has entered the mainstream of society. A disparaging judgement is increasingly becoming a compliment. The former oddball becomes a contact person, a specialist or a bearer of knowledge. It is good if you can ask him or her for help and support with a professional or private issue, a problem or a challenge. Very good if you yourself are considered a geek, because that means that your personal expertise is noticed and you are valued as a contact person, specialist or bearer of knowledge. And as the saying goes, “I think everyone is a geek in at least one thing.”5

Differences between geeks and nerds

There are many comparisons between geeks and nerds (and hackers or gamers) on the internet. One seems to be more introverted than the other (after all, one was originally a showman at a fair). One wears glasses that are too big, the other has bad posture; or maybe it’s the other way around. Both are considered “oddballs”, “outsiders” and sometimes even “bores”.

Two points are certain:

  1. Both have a strong interest in a subject and are passionate about it.
  2. From this preoccupation with the subject area, both develop knowledge and possibly also skills over time.

The main difference is probably the term “fan”: Nerd is only extremely rarely used as a synonym for fan, whereas geek is. Someone who is well-versed in the latest details of Angular and can enumerate all the principles and practices of clean code development is likely to hear both terms. Someone who knows all the goal scorers of the German national football team of the last 20 years by heart, who can list the winners of the Turing Award, or knows all the trivia about Madonna is more likely to be called a geek. So if it is a fan, the terms are different; in all other cases, you can put aside all attributions and use the terms synonymously.

Geek - a person with a particularly strong interest in a subject

Impulse to discuss:

How would you feel about being called a geek?


[1] Cambridge Dictionary
[2] GeekWire
[3] Cosplay is a portmanteau of costume and play; at cosplay events, fans slip into costumes and portray fictional characters from manga, anime, video games, etc.
[4] Synonyms
[5] Source unfortunately unknown

“Aren’t we all a bit geeky?” This is the question posed by the German editor of Geek! Magazine, which focuses on films, TV series, games, novels, comics and gadgets, among other things. Interestingly, the magazine is aimed at series junkies, nerds, science fiction and fantasy fans. So here, too, there is a mixture of terms.

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