Nerds, Dorks, Geeks, and Cool Dudes

Nerd Dork Geek VennWhen I was in college (Go Blue!), I lived in a house with all dudes – 7 guys from all over the country. My buddy Pat used to tell people that we were just a bunch of dorks. Dorks? I’d refute Pat’s claim that we were dorks. I told him not to include me in that group as I wanted to be known as one of the cool kids. For the record, Pat was an engineer while I was in liberal arts and business. Pat took a course on Statics – the study of non-motion. Need I say more?

Fast forward to conversations I’ve had with K-Dawg about our soon-to-be-born daughter (Baby Waldow). Kristina wants her to be a nerd. I want her to be cool. Kristina’s rationale is that if she’s a nerd, she likely be smart, thus giving her more opportunities in life. Also for the record, Kristina claims she was a “cool nerd” in high school and college. Work hard, play hard. One of the many things I love about her.

Just last month, I was sitting at a table with the likes of Summer (Joy) Boone, Amber Naslund, Chris Moody, Emily Haughey, and a few others. We had just wrapped up a day of talking social media at Social Fresh Tampa (plug: great event run by Jason Keath). Someone brought up the whole nerd vs. dork vs. geek conversation.

And just yesterday, I was having an IM conversation with Amber and (again) dork vs. geek vs. nerd came up.

I figured it was time for a fresh post. It was time to set the record straight – thanks to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and, of course, Urban Dictionary. Here goes…


I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word Nerd, I think of Revenge of the Nerds (the movie). I also think about how sometimes Kristina will chant “Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!” (see Rap clip – classic).

Merriam-Webster defines nerd as, “an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds>.

Urban Dictionary has their own unique spin (but of course). Their top 3:

  1. One whose IQ exceeds his weight.
  2. An individual persecuted for his superior skills or intellect, most often by people who fear and envy him.
  3. An ‘individual’, i.e. a person who does not conform to society’s beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obesssion with a given subject, usually computers. Unfortunately, nerds seem to have problems breeding, to the detriment of mankind as a whole.

Read all of the Urban Dictionary definitions of Nerd (note: some may not be safe for work).

Are you a nerd?


I think of dork as a “cool nerd” … whatever that means.

Interestingly, Meriam-Webster doesn’t really have a definition of dork. They say the etymology is from another 4 letter word that starts with a D. However, I do like that that say it’s slang for “nerd” and “jerk.” Jerk? Odd.

A few choice selections from Urban Dictionary (I’ve skipped #2 – awkward):

  1. Someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times. A dork is also someone who can be themselves and not care what anyone thinks.
  2. Someone who does things that are kinda silly and not necessarily cool but always cute.
  3. An individual who is keenly interested in and good at mathematics, science, and technology, and applies mathematical and scientific principles to everyday occurrences, while at the same time being lovable and very personable, often having many friends due to wittiness, often loves video games. Not to be confused with nerd or geek or dweeb.

Are you a dork?


To me, a geek is a really dorky nerd.

Again, I defer to Merriam-Webster who defines geek as:

  1. a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
  2. a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
  3. an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>

Again, Urban Dictionary tells it how it really is.

  1. The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult
  2. Not to be confused with Nerd. A geek does not have to be smart, a Geek is someone who is generaly not athletic, and enjoys Video Games; Comic Books; being on the internet, and etc.

Definition #3 is perhaps my favorite (especially the “note” at the bottom):

The term “geek” originally referred to the carnival performers whose act consisted of biting the heads off chickens and eating glass. Over time it came to be applied to anyone who got paid to do work considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society.

The term now enjoys a special status within the technical community, particularly among particularly knowledgable computer programmers. To identify oneself as a “geek” indicates a recognition that most people still consider programming computers to be a bizarre act, along with a certain fierce satisfaction in being very good at their inglorious profession.

That most software geeks now easily earn twice as much as the average laborer just sweetens their defiant embrace of the term.

Note: Unlike the word “nerd,” which is always pejorative, “geek” often carries a positive connotation when used by one of the group. The use of the term by outsiders is considered insulting.

Are you a geek?

Cool Dude

Finally, there is the cool dude – what I consider myself to be. Ha ha. Yeah. Right. My friends, family (and wife) remind me all of the time that I’m not really one of the cool kids. I think they are just jealous. We all know what a cool dude is, right? This post really is not about that group. It’s about the nerds, dorks, and geeks. Based on those definitions above, I’d consider myself a dork (minus the “good at math & science” part … as well as definition #2 from Urban Dictionary). Dammit. Pat was right.

So, which one are you?

A. Nerd.
B. Dork.
C. Geek.
D. Cool Dude.
E. Other.

Image Credit: coneybeare
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DJ Waldow