Listening Post: America–17% geeks

Venn diagram of the geek-nerd-dork-dweeb personality spectrum. Graphic: Democratic Underground

Venn diagram of the geek-nerd-dork-dweeb personality spectrum. Graphic: Democraticunderground

I am among the the 17% of Americans who (according to, when asked, will self-identify as “geeks.” A much smaller subset will self-identify as “nerds.” A much larger percentage of Americans, no doubt, will ask “What’s the difference?” This has long been a matter of debate, particularly on the Internet, where geeks, nerds and other less-savory specimens are likely to congregate.

Originally, a “geek” was a circus performer, more particularly, the kind of circus performer that would bite the head off a live chicken. And “nerd” was coined in 1954 by Dr. Seuss, in a line of verse reading “A nerkle, a nerd, and a seersucker, too!” But in popular usage, the terms have taken on different shadings. According to

“A geek is somebody who is generally very knowledgeable—even to the point of obsession—about a topic… it’s important to note that geeks are generally social. They have their fascination in what makes them unique, but you probably wouldn’t know of their geekitude unless they told you about it.

The general connotation [of nerd] is of an irritating, unattractive person who may be brilliant, but who chooses to focus on non-social pursuits. Another definition of “nerd” is a four letter word with a six-figure income. digs in a little deeper:

Geek: Someone who spends a lot of time and energy in a certain special but conventional area… A geek is an outwardly normal person who can relate to others in general but who has taken the time to learn specific technical skills and would rather talk about their special obsession than anything else. They are generally not athletic and enjoy sedentary pursuits like video games, comic books, being on the internet, etc… Geeks can be self-confident and proud of their traits.

Nerd: Someone with a great interest in academic subjects like math and science and who is socially awkward and has trouble relating to others outside of their fields… Nerds generally are self-confident in the academic setting and take pride in their intellect and band together with other nerds although their social skills outside of their academic obsession are diminished.

They also expand the personality spectrum to include “dorks” and “dweebs,” and provide the handy Venn diagram above to show you the traits shared and not shared by each of the four types. A Venn diagram, by the way, almost always tests positive for the presence of “nerd.”

You might say, “Well, they all have one thing in common–they’re losers!” You might, that is, if you were a “hunk,” a “babe” or a “jock.” But actually, both geeks and nerds have a good shot at being winners. I, for example, have been in a stable relationship for forty years and have almost always been employed full time, and Wall Street is famously thick with nerds. In fact, or at least factoid, 31% of Americans believe geeks have a higher chance of being successful. No one, however, is laying odds on dweebs and dorks. It has been suggested that hygiene can be an issue. Sorry.

If you are in doubt as to which category you might fall in yourself, offers a handy online “Nerd, Geek or Dork” test.

Taking online tests?–I think that’s another “nerd” indicator. But let me know how you do, in a comment below.


11 Comments on “Listening Post: America–17% geeks”

  1. connie says:

    According to the second definition, I’m for sure a Sondheim geek.

  2. Laurie Booth-Trudo says:

    This Listening Post is apropos of what?

    There are already so many places in our culture that sling negative labels at any behavior, habits or personal traits that differ from whatever the imagined “norm” is that we don’t need to do it to ourselves or others we think are like us;even if it is intended to be humorous.

  3. ncpradmin says:

    Hi Laurie–

    I think two of the strongest ways to take the onus and sting out of labels is both to own them with pride, and to take them less seriously than the creators or purveyors of the label would wish one to take them. People are always going to come up new lingo to prop open the us/them divide. I believe in occupying the English “slanguage.”

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  4. Marty M says:

    I’m partial to this Geek Test:
    I rank in as a Dysfunctional Geek with a score of 75.83026%, which is just a bit scary.

    I’m partial to the Myers-Briggs system of classification (, where I’m listed as an INTP (introversion, intuition, thinking, perception).

    Personally, I feel that categorizing people as geeks, nerds, jocks, dweebs, and so on only serves to perpetuate the cliquish nature of human society. While this is pretty much human nature, it’s also divides the community into several groups and continues the vicious cycle of harassment and bullying found in society. If there was more acceptance of ‘geeky’ and ‘nerdy’ behavior, and introversion in general, perhaps there wouldn’t be such an issue with depression, online bullying, and other sociological and psychological issues that keep popping up in society these days.

    Also, the test you linked categorizes me as “Outcast Genius.”

  5. Byron Whitney says:

    Joe Normal here.

  6. Nick Wolochatiuk says:

    Dale, Thu. Sept. 5, 2013

    As usual, you’ve provided some interesting reading and something to think about.
    The self-analysis test 60 Q’s was quite lengthy. At the end, I was unable to get its ‘evaluation’ of me, because it required giving out my e-mail address, something I refuse to give to a ‘stranger’ who demands it. It can end up in Botswana, Nigeria or Moscow, used to inform me that if I just send $300 and my social insurance and bank card number, I’ll receive $398,004,468,021.00 from the will of a complete stranger.

    I guess I’ll just have to be me, uncategorized, but part geek, part nerd and part dork. However, as a photographer, writer (“Dances With Words” column every week since 1994), canoeist, aviation enthusiast and traveller, I’m quite okay.

    Nick Wolochatiuk

  7. Ellen Rocco says:

    I’m a wannabe geek.

  8. Mr. Wakiki says:

    I think the secret is if you would have said you were a geek (or nerd) 20 years ago or in the future. Right now it is kind of ‘cool’ to be geeky.

    I would guess if you had the choice of being Joss Whedon or Tom Brady, less people would say they are a geek

  9. Joseph S says:

    Don’t know where I fall in this spectrum … but I think that we have multiple identities (all constructed-by us or by society(ies)-for various purposes). There’s enough cognative dissonance in my head to get along with everybody, even with those who would be too small-minded to like any of my particular (contrasting) identities. I don’t want to give details, lest I alienate anyone before they know … me.

  10. Will S says:

    I took the test, which you claimed was an indication of nerd, and in fact I scored 65% nerd, 0% geek (way too athletic), and 22% dork. In college (MIT) we actually differentiated between nerds and gnurds (I was considered to be the latter).

  11. Belle says:

    Me? I’m just a Slerd.

    Always love Listening Post, Dale.

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