Geeks Are Still Being Bullied By Dictionaries

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Just in time for Geek Pride day, some folks on the Internet have started to get a little defensive over the term "geek," as they should, since lots of official language arbiters still consider it a derogatory term.

The whole thing started with a recent spat over the user of "geek" to describe archery, as Wired's Jim MacQuarrie describes it. USA Archery CEO called archery a "geek sport." An olympic archer found that offensive. "Is anyone else in the archery world as offended by this as me? I for one take this sport very seriously," he responded. That, in turn, has offended the geeks. But, geeks, sorry to say this, if we're judging this technically, he's kind of right.

The Geeks say they have reappropriated the term, and it no longer has a negative connotation. "Personally, I have no problem identifying myself as a geek girl, geek, nerd, dork, etc," writes Jill Pantozi on The Mary Sue (a site that describes itself as "A Guide to Girl Geek Culture") pointing to a survey that shows all the ways geeks are positively viewed. Some of the findings: 51 percent of Americans surveyed consider geeks professionally successful; 54 percent find them extremely intelligent with perceptions of social awkwardness much lower down. "When you talk about a geek, you used to think of the guy in the back of the room, pocket protector with a bunch of pens in it, the white shirt, the high pants, very socially inept," said Jack Cullen, president of Modis, which sponsored the survey. "Today, when I think of geeks, I think of Steve Jobs. One guy has redefined the geek concept. You could put Zuckerberg in the same category," he continued. We agree, computer aptitude isn't lame. It's mainstream, if not hip. (Says the blogger who works on computers all day long.) Listen up, geeks: All signs point to "cool."

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All signs besides the official ones. (And that one archer.) When we went searching around for bona fide definitions, we came up with a lot of negative. Like this, which we get from Google's dictionary.

See that, number one definition: a big, dorkwad freak that nobody likes. And that wasn't even the worst of it. Merriam-Webster puts some sort of specific Carnie (read: freak) above dorkwad, and then we get the computer variant. 

The top two hits in The Oxford English Dictionary read as follows:  

a. orig. Eng. regional (north.). A person, a fellow, esp. one who is regarded as foolish, offensive, worthless, etc. 

b. Freq. depreciative. An overly diligent, unsociable student; any unsociable person obsessively devoted to a particular pursuit (usually specified in a preceding attrib. noun). Cf. nerd n.

It's only once we reach letter c. where we get: "A person who is extremely devoted to and knowledgeable about computers or related technology." Though, it is worth noting, way down, the OED also defines "Geek chic," the glamorization of Geek culture.

We did find one place that put computer-dork above the rest: Though, even the Internet native admits it can have a mean bent. 

So Geeks, even if you have taken the term back and use it with pride. Not everyone, not even the language experts, have evolved to that understanding of the term—yet.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.