There seems to be an interesting distinction between "official" dictionaries and Web authorities. "Official" authorities take a pretty harsh view on us nerds. To Mirriam-Webster
, for example, a nerd is "an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds>" .
Web references, by contrast, think of us in less pejorative terms---possibly because their authors tend to belong to our tribe themselves. They de-emphasize the social-dysfunction aspect and focus on the intellectual aspect instead. To Wikipedia
, "Nerd is a term that refers to a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities."
Bridging the two worlds, The New Hacker's Dictionary
, my favorite reference for computer-wizard jargon, suggests that the web references' definition is a conscious play on the "official" definition:
- [mainstream slang] Pejorative applied to anyone with an above-average IQ and few gifts at small talk and ordinary social rituals.
- [jargon] Term of praise applied (in conscious ironic reference to sense 1) to someone who knows what's really important and interesting and doesn't care to be distracted by trivial chatter and silly status games."
As an aside: Whenever I call you a "nerd", which I think I do quite frequently, I always
mean it as an emphatic compliment in the sense of the Jargon File's definition #2. I have so internalized that definition that I totally forgot about #1. It never occurred to me that the word I was calling you could be perceived as even remotely derogatory.
Derogatory or not, though, none of these definitions confines nerds to science and technology. All of them allow for a much broader spectrum of interests. Among the interests listed in the definitions, philosophy certainly qualifies as "an intellectual or academic pursuit", a relatively "obscure interest", an "unconventional activity", as well as "really important and interesting". It's the perfect occupation for nerds, whatever ones definition of "nerd".