Nerds

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Who’s a Nerd, Anyway?:

But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones (“it’s my observation” instead of “I think:), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They’re aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques. One nerd girl Bucholtz observed performed a typically nerdy feat when asked to discuss “blood” as a slang term; she replied: “B-L-O-O-D. The word is blood” evoking the format of a spelling bee. She went on, “That’s the stuff which is inside of your veins,” humorously using a literal definition. Nerds are not simply victims of the prevailing social codes about what’s appropriate and what’s cool; they actively shape their own identities and put those codes in question.

I think the researcher interviewed is a bit too obsessed with straight-jacketing nerds into a racial identity (white). I speak as a brown nerd, though I doubt I’m as socially antagonistic toward colloquial slang and conventional mores as the archetypical nerds. Rather, I think the key to nerditutde is the lower emphasis on being accepted and so assimilating the normative tardish value system (who cares if your friends make fun of you for reading? Keep at it!). Of course, many more socially aware intrinsic nerds become adept at mimicking the tardish comportment during high school, only to show their “true colors” in college when they continue to focus academically and go on to professional jobs. Any true nerdologist has to grapple with the reality that the majority of nerds might actually be “passing.”

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66 Comments

  1. I understand what you mean by nerds “passing” as non-nerds in order to fit in. I notice that I let my language register slip whenever I have conversations with old childhood friends. 
     
    Have you ever noticed the opposite phenomenon of non-nerds “passing” as nerds? I noticed this phenomenon as an undergraduate: recruited athletes or (this is terribly politically incorrect, but I’ll say it anyway) affirmative-action admits, trying hard to keep up with other nerdy students who had spent their teenage years reading lots of dense books.

  2. Bucholtz seems fantastically clueless. Not the slightest hint of insight to offer for her 12 years of “study”. Typical social scientist with only a hammer and a world filled with nails. Why did you link this?

  3. Why did you link this? 
     
    wanted an intro to talking about our people. 
     
    Have you ever noticed the opposite phenomenon of non-nerds “passing” as nerds? 
     
    yeah, but it doesn’t work if you’re stupid, right? this is like trying to “pass as an athlete.” there are smaller schools where everyone makes the varsity tennis team, so even the less athletic can “letter.” but everyone knows who the “real athletes” are. at the smallest rural schools where everyone makes varsity everyone knows who the bench warmers are.

  4. In my experience there are “non-overlapping magisteria” of nerds. There are computer nerds and science nerds and stamp-collecting nerds and chess-playing nerds, etc, etc.  
     
    For some strange reason persons obsessed with football or cars or shoot-em-up video games are not considered nerds. They are “regular guys”. 
     
    So I’ve concluded that the nerd is a person with unorthodox obsessions.

  5. Razib, I have to agree with you. A nerd is someone who puts something – anything – above social status.

  6. The article’s author finishes the piece by parroting Bucholtz’s conclusion that nerds are rejecting white appropriation of black youth culture, yet he starts off the article mentioning nerdcore rap, an example of nerds appropriating black youth culture! I am definitely not looking forward to his book on nerd culture, what kind of sorry excuse for a nerd are you if you can’t spot a logical contradiction?

  7. There doesn’t even seem to be a discussion of the distinction between ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’, a distinction that I understand is different on the western side of the US and Canada than the eastern one. 
     
    Where I’ve lived, a nerd is a person who puts their obsession with intellectual subjects and thinking well at a higher priority than finding social acceptance, often rejecting the majority of the populace as having unsuitable interests. A geek is someone whose obsessions either get in the way of socialization, or who lacks social skills while being obsessed with a nonstandard subject, but who lacks the smarts to be a nerd; it’s a slightly pejorative term. 
     
    In the west (possibly due to influence from Silicon Valley), I’m told the meanings are reversed.

  8. For some strange reason persons obsessed with football or cars or shoot-em-up video games are not considered nerds. 
     
    They aren’t??? Man, I’ll never understand Americans. 
     
    Over here, we use the same word, borrowed, and you listed some of the top obsessions that ended up turning you into a nerd as a teenager. A nerd is a guy who repulses girls with his obsessive interest in a boy subject and teenage girls DO NOT want to hear about sports, cars or video games. The opposite of a “nerdy” subject is anything guys would call “gay” – horoscopes and other stuff that the playerish guys used (of course, the player guy can still spend hours playing video games, but he won’t be broadcasting it when it’s not helping him – it’s all really a question of social skills).

  9. I can’t access the article, but the rejection of non-standard english (including A.I.Mspeak and 1337sp34k) and “black culture” definitely rings true for me. “nerdcore” strikes me as a Thing That Should Not Be. 
     
    I don’t think I could have been said to have formed a “clique” of fellow nerds. I had three good friends in high school, one of whom was another advanced student like me, but who quit hanging out with us in favor of other band-geeks. Of the remaining two, one was fairly popular with other students but rather troubled and dropped out of high school (I think he’s got his G.E.D though and is attending college, but he lives in Iowa with his fiancee’s family so my knowledge is sketchy), the other is currently serving in Iraq, which is odd since he said he was opposed to the Iraq war before he decided to join the Army.

  10. Your remarks resonate in my personal experience, Razib. I really liked your response to Mr. Vassar’s question. Which was a good question. 
     
    Jaakkeli, I think we have to draw a distinction between nerdishness manifested in doing versus talking about, a distinction particularly clear with athletics. 
     
    Speaking with the wisdom of years, I have found that the set of things I had to talk about grew over time, along with my peer’s, and eventually it grew to a point where it began to intersect with people outside of my main activity sphere of the day. 
     
    I’ve known player nerds. Observing them in action, they weren’t obsessively talking about their technique. They were of course doing their technique.

  11. Is it actually forbidden in the USA to have an interest in sports and literature and science and pretty girls and, oh I don’t know, motorbikes and fine wines? Are they really mutually exclusive?

  12. I’m not an American, Jaakkeli. In my country Australia, I have always been amazed at the extent to which a male can devote his life to sport and still be regarded as totally normal. Also I have met women who are more sport-crazy than any man I have ever met. Cars are more a male thing, but even here expertise and deep knowledge wins you respect from other males at least. Video games vary. FPS are a male genre but plenty of girls/women are into role playing. The Sims are a widespread female obsession (It’s like playing dolls houses on screen. IMHO)

  13. At the smallest rural schools where everyone makes varsity everyone knows who the bench warmers are. 
     
    At the smallest rural schools (mine) a marginal player (me) can be a starter. I played against at least one guy who went on to Division I football. We lost about 35-7, and the 7 was against the scrubs.  
     
    That was a good thing. Sports are a lot of fun even if you’re not very good. Small schools don’t do the sorting that big schools do, and that’s good too. (One of the best athletes in my HS was a sissy who turned out to be gay. Starting quarterback, point guard, a finesse player. He had a career in coaching). 
     
    A lot of this stuff is a result of those HS sorting processes. If you’re not one of the best at something, you don’t do it at all. I think that’s toxic. Music, sports, and academics are interesting and fun even if you’re mediocre, and it’s good for mediocre people to be active in things. Where I grew up the performance tops weren’t very high (only very occasionally would someone go to a nationally-ranked college), but the mean and the bottom were extremely high. Our C students were smarter than big schools’ C students, just because they could read and do arithmetic.  
     
    Nerds: a few years back I had a lovely young woman born about 1975 (going into oceanography) explain to me that it’s now OK to be a nerd, but not a geek. Nerds opted out of the trashy dating scene, and because of their interests didn’t have a lot of time for partying, but they weren’t necessarily socially inept or totally lacking in style. Lots of cool nerds. (eople are starting to figure out that the cool people in HS are often losers.) 
     
    Geeks are socially inept. I think that geeks also tend toward the more marginal pop interests, rather than academics.  
     
    Jim Henley:  
     
    My guess is that “nerdiness” has at least as much to do with problematic relations with gender roles. IÂ’m not sure how much of it is active rejection, how much is simple inability and how much is “sour grapes” syndrome – rejection after recognizing how poorly one fits the real boy or good girl model. 
     
    I added (slightly edited): 
     
    Add to it that many nerds and geeks still have some kind of helpless yearning for extreme forms of the genderedness they donÂ’t have themselves (e.g. anime buffs and violent gamers) and I think you have the whole story. 
     
    Someone else said: 
     
    ItÂ’s seemed to me for a while that a major part of nerdiness is a combination of a strong facility for mastering complex formal systems with a lack of facility for comprehending subtle, informal systems. Thus, nerds go in for math, proper grammar, computer programming, and memorizing D&D manuals, but have difficulty with slang and flirtation. 
     
    All this fits with my theory that the first year of HS (whether that’s 9th or 10th grade) is the defining trauma of American life. I tend to defend American HSs against their typical critics, but the HS social environment is toxic.

  14. Well said, JE. 
     
    Sorry, totally off-topic, but I googled Tard and got this: 
     
    http://www.tardsite.com/trdomnth0798.htm

  15. This has got to be the most insane article that I have read in some time. Let me see, nerdiness is defined as a kind of uber-whiteness, a whiteness that repudiates anything even remotely Black. Given this definition, why don’t nerds embrace Nascar and county music (Surely two of the more “White” cultural activities in the U.S.)? For that matter, how can someone define the dropping of terminal g’s as a marker of Blackness? Does this mean that hillbilly Whites who drop their g’s are aping Black speech?

  16. Oh, there’s no categorizing those lovable nerds: 
     
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=tZql71eOGO8 
     
    Besides, the standard text has already been written: 
     
    http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

  17. How social should you be to be told that you have social skills? 
    Im sure those nerds have their own nerd friends. Isnt that social skills enough? Do you really have to attend to parties or speak the retard mass’ language to be considered social? Really bright people are easily annoyed by small talk about the what other people do.

  18. For tru son, it’s all about tha areas of interest lolz 
     
    That was supposed to be funny.

  19.  
    Im sure those nerds have their own nerd friends. Isnt that social skills enough? Do you really have to attend to parties or speak the retard mass’ language to be considered social? Really bright people are easily annoyed by small talk about the what other people do.
     
     
    nerdz get horny too, and the reality is that there is a sex imbalance in the nerd world. so yeah, you do have to speak to the retard masses and flow with their lingo to engage in regular intercourse, so to speak. of course some nerds don’t care about that, and that’s fine, but other nerds want to be more ‘well rounded.’ tardspeak is just like learning a new mathematical formalism appropriate to a particular domain of interest. in any case, i did have a sincere interest in stuff like professional sports for a lot of my young adulthood so it wasn’t too difficult, most tards don’t keep track of contingent facts so you don’t need to be particularly focused when on verbal auto-pilot. when tards talk about stupid shit like astrology all you really need is some lexical fluency, the syntax is almost irrelevant, no one knows what everyone else is saying either (pop in particular key phrases like, “you are so an ares, i had a friend who was an ares…”).

  20. Man, Razib’s going all Chamberlain on pop astrology too….. the man’s dangerous, I tell you. Be very afraid.

  21. My 2 favorite responses to “What star sign are you?” 
     
    1. I’m a capricorn. Capricorns never believe in astrology. 
     
    2. I’m ruled by “the mountain of Venus” (mons veneris).

  22. Daniel Dare: “obscurity” doesn’t work at all for figuring out which hobbies are nerdy. Take, for example, skydiving. I’m betting that there are a lot more chess players and stamp collectors than skydivers out there, but admitting to an obscure hobby like skydiving definitely won’t get you branded as a nerd like admitting to playing chess or collecting stamps as a hobby does. 
     
    Mark: OK, so if we’re talking about a hobby itself instead of conversation topics, what do the nerdiest hobbies have in common? Generally, they’re all pointless waste of time and they’re all completely safe and non-challenging in any other way except perhaps in IQ demands. The athlete is keeping in shape and being better looking thanks to his hobby, the partyer is meeting people and learning social skills thanks to his hobby and so on, but the chess nerd is only becoming a better chess nerd. Most people intuitively recognize the immutability of IQ: they know that playing chess doesn’t actually make you smarter the same way playing football makes you more fit, playing chess simply makes you a better chess player and nothing else. It’s no way to develop yourself. The time spent on chess is just spent with no return on the “investment”. 
     
    It’s funny how nerdy guys tend to despise the cool party guys as people who aren’t thinking about the future, but then they waste their time on hobbies like chess which will do absolutely nothing for them in life while the party guys spend that time learning at least some tricks for the future. To me, it seems like an essential part of nerdiness is lack of skill in recognizing whether a time investment in an activity actually makes sense or not (the flip side of patience). 
     
    And then, announcing a hobby tells something about your personality. Chess is only fun for those of us who actually enjoy pointless mental masturbation games with arbitrary rules a lot and it’s hard for most people to relate to that. It’s fine to have hobbies like that, but what if ALL your past & present hobbies are like that? Why have you chosen only hobbies like that – or is it that you lack the social skills and can’t do other types of hobbies? People will conclude that you’re either boring company for anyone who isn’t a fellow mental masturbator of the same kind (chess etc) or, worse, that you’re limiting yourself to safe hobbies because you’re an immature, fearful person or because you don’t have the social skills to do more social stuff.

  23. I thought nerds were simply people with an uncommon avidity for knowledge (often but not always about science – I’m from a country that’s full of “literary” nerds) and “unconventional” social attitudes (stemming either from choice or from utter social ineptness). 
     
    What I notice in the article (and in these comments) is an assumption that nerds make a conscious choice of being nerds, or to segregate from the mainstream. I’m not sure about that at all. 
     
    Once again the “white/black” blurb seems to illustrate a fixation on the black ghettoes of western countries. I’ve seen a few African students who could certainly qualify as nerds (and incidentally could mop the floor with anyone else in maths).  
     
    Man, Razib’s going all Chamberlain on pop astrology too….. 
     
    “Chamberlain?” Is it because he’s trying to appease non-nerds ? ;)

  24. Good points Jaakk. I used to be a nerd as an adolescent, but once I became an adult all of a sudden I developed a deep love for excitement, and then a vast sea of change swept forth from that. Nerds are too concerned with vulnerability, intelligent people who aren’t nerds are concentrating more on opportunity.

  25. It’s not hard to come up with a workable definition. A nerd has a great deal of difficulty finding women. A geek is even worse off, having so little luck he’s probably abandoned all hope of ever finding a woman. Ever wonder why there’s a big thriving mail-order bride industry in America? Nerds and geeks, that’s why.

  26. An interest in sport doesn’t always mean fitness Jaakkeli. Consider spectator sport. People can be obsessed with football teams, say, and tell you all sorts of Mental Masturbation things like who won the championship in 1927 and no-one thinks that’s nerdy.  
     
    There’s nothing more useless to your development than watching specator sport. People devote an unbelievable amount of their free time to activities like this and no-one thinks it odd. Then they spend more hours discussing last week’s game. But if you like to read about science, say, that is nerdy. Discussing it is even worse. Scientific knowledge has practical uses, sport knowledge has none unless you are a professional sports person.  
     
    I’ve never wasted my time on activities like chess. I am a very practical person. I’ve never collected stamps either, but stamp collecting is a hobby that can be a good investment vehicle. Astute collectors can make a fortune. 
     
    Active participation in sport is an entirely different matter. That can mean fitness. 
     
    Anyway I didn’t say “obscure”, I said “unorthodox”. The key is what the cool people think is cool.  
     
    I thought the article that onetwothree linked above by Paul Graham was very good. Thanks 123.

  27. Following up on Razib’s point that the racial angle is seriously overplayed by the Bucholtz, how about the East Asian angle? Especially at a UC, how could Bucholtz failed to have noticed that East Asians fit into the ‘hyperwhite’ nerd ethos as a hand in a fitted glove? When I used to teach in Cupertino, CA, the complete amalgamation of Asian and White nerds into one glorious geek fest was obvious even to the blind. It’s not race, but something else in play–and not interest in something other than popularity: That would place the Goths in there too. Methinks it’s something people here are fond of: g anyone?

  28. A nerd is a guy who repulses girls with his obsessive interest in a boy subject and teenage girls DO NOT want to hear about sports, cars or video games. 
     
    Your point sounds logical but isn’t borne out by experience. Men who are obsessed with traditional guy things such as sports, cars, shoot-’em-up video games and manual crafts such as woodworking have no particular trouble finding women, even though relatively few women share their interests. The men who tend to have little luck with women are those who are obsessed with things that (a) seldom interest women and (b) are not considered to be fully masculine: things like science fiction, D&D, Trek, fantasy such as LOTR, certain video games such as WoW, and so on.

  29. Razib, John Emerson, my standard trick for getting around annoying nonsensical beliefs is exoticism. It even adds a level of coolness! Chinese astrology is obviously way cooler than Western pop astrology and you don’t actually have to pretend to believe in it, you can just talk about what the Chinese believe and still look be a relaxed guy and not the uptight nerd who complains about astrology… 
     
    Some other John: Do you really have to attend to parties or speak the retard mass’ language to be considered social? Really bright people are easily annoyed by small talk about the what other people do. 
     
    Yes, you do have to talk about that stuff to be considered social… one of the most essential social skills (which I’ve been very badly lacking in, personally) is finding the lowest common denominator stuff to talk about with a new person. If you can’t do that, you’re necessarily limited in the type of people you can interact with casually. (I, too, used to hate small talk, but that was because it always felt like a chore to me, since I had such low natural skill in it that I really had to do intense brainwork to get through it. I now understand why most people in school hated math! To normal people it must’ve felt like small talk felt to me.) 
     
    It’s hardly surprising if you have no non-nerdy friends if you’re broadcasting the attitude that everyone else is stupid. Really, what’s wrong with stupidity? Some of my best friends have been stupid. Even if you’re the smartest person in the world, you’ll still be damn boring to hang out with if you can only talk about your own hobbies or your own field (since most people you meet won’t care about either). A mere high IQ doesn’t make anyone interesting, it’s how you use it – and knowing only stuff that few people care about and bitter attitudes about “retard masses” are not going to get anyone thinking of you as an interesting person. 
     
    (I ended up turning into a bitter bore like that after some events for my late teens and a bit after and, damn, I wish I could go back and explain some things to myself. The first thing I’d tell myself is that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY really cares a fuck about how smart anyone else is, people only care about whether you’re acting conceited and whether talking to you feels like fun or like a chore.)

  30. Peter, well, our experiences differ. The teenage guys I knew who obsessed over cars were all complete losers with girls. Guys could be good with girls even if they filled their life with mostly guy things, but only if they weren’t obsessive or insecure about it and if they knew how to keep it separate from their love life ie. *if they had the social skills to relate to people even when they don’t share the special interests*. The latter point isn’t even different for men & women. Guys don’t care about the girl stuff their girlfriends do, as long as they’re not getting dragged to the yoga lecture, girls don’t care about guy stuff as long as they don’t have to hear about spark plugs. Men just tend to be worse at social stuff, guy friendships often just revolve around an activity, so many guys have no experience in just “connecting” and guys like that will end up botching especially early attempts with women because they don’t know how to connect with people except by a shared interest. 
     
    (And since when has sitting on the computer playing shoot’em ups been considered masculine behaviour? It’s a heavily male hobby, but so is Star Trek – a skewed male:female ratio doesn’t make an activity masculine.) 
     
    Me, until my present mid-twenties, I could never get more than one night stands, because I always lacked the social skills to do what I really wanted to do, so I felt like a loser with hobbies I was doing just because I couldn’t do anything else and thus I was TERRIBLY insecure about my life – and women smell this stuff miles away. A *lot* of the Trek/WoW/etc nerds I’ve known are similar people, they’re really into those hobbies only because they don’t know how to do anything else, that is, they feel like they have a sucky loser hobby but they have no idea how to break out of it, feeling like double losers. Athletic people don’t tend to feel like losers, not even when they’re spending so much time training and competing that it’s severely hurting their dating.

  31. Some of my best friends have been stupid. 
     
    yeah, this was true when i was younger. at night was reading popular science books, by day i was playing pick up basketball on the blacktop and chillin’ with john madden football afterwards. there is no shame in tardishness, just as you aren’t a lesser person if your coordination skills never allow you to break 75% free throw shooting. my impatience with tards on my blogs is like any impatience i’d have with someone wanting to play b-ball who couldn’t dribble and shot two-handed style or something like that. the sentiment is fine, but you’re ruining the skill level of the game.

  32. I agree with Jaakkeli. People at the top law schools likely nailed the LSAT, and that’s g-loaded enough for MENSA to accept scores from it. No offense, but it wouldn’t be too hard to find a Harvard Law student who’s smarter than 90% of the people in this thread, but if the person called this 90% “tards,” the tards would say “How dare you?!” rather than accept what the cold hard test scores say. 
     
    Ditto for the best business or medical schools (although I’d say law school is a safer bet). Few of these students would be branded nerds or geeks — they are taller than average, extraverted, and ambitious. I think if you looked at all people who are in law school, and all the people who are in a science PhD program, the mean level of ambitiousness and “killer instinct” to achieve would be greater among the former. I think you’d have to go to an elite PhD program to find nerds who had that “conquer the world” appetite. Different mean levels of testosterone, probably. 
     
    And too many nerds are too self-complacent. Yeah, it requires so much intellectual horsepower to surf through Wikipedia and YouTube for at least an hour per day. Hey, we all have ways of spending downtime, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this actually accomplishes anything: if at the end of a week, I gave you a quiz on the topics you’d read about on Wikipedia, you wouldn’t be able to solve anything but the most rudimentary problem. Contrast that with reading a textbook for an hour a day, or journal articles. We also shouldn’t kid ourselves about many nerd pastimes requiring thought — about as much as channel-surfing. 
     
    While I’m on a rant, another thing that signals a geek (maybe a nerd too, I’m not sure) is choosing interests that allow them to look down their nose at midgets. That’s the primary appeal of taking up a strong interest in atheism (NB: not merely having atheistic beliefs or being a student of religion). It allows you to snigger about how stupid and confused the Fundies are. Well, swell — now venture into a grown-up field, and see if you can hang with the men instead of the boys. 
     
    OK deep breath… I obviously have several nerdish tendencies, but there are a lot of nerds who need to get over themselves. Once you get tenure at Harvard or win the Nobel Prize, then you can brag. Until then, you don’t really have anything worth bragging about — to anyone whose opinion you value. Some degree of modesty and humility is the first step toward eventually tearing your field a new asshole: you’re aware that there’s so much you, along w/ everyone else, doesn’t know. On the other hand, the “I’m so smart” mindset leads necessarily to an “unrecognized genius” complex. God, let’s not even go there…

  33.  
    Ditto for the best business or medical schools (although I’d say law school is a safer bet). Few of these students would be branded nerds or geeks — they are taller than average, extraverted, and ambitious.
     
     
    i think you should take med school out of the picture. too many asians to be that tall ;-) also, since top law schools are loaded with jews i’m be curious about the average metrics for height and body form. i bet you you could do some analysis with facebook (which has been done).

  34. Perhaps Finnish HS girls are outliers. 
     
    People who participate in sports are not nerds, but people who collect baseball cards and talk about statistics are nerds.  
     
    The impracticality of nerds and geeks is a feature. Excessively practical people are less likely to accomplish anything big, because they’re less willing to gamble and more fixated on the immediate payoff. A real contract law whiz makes far more than a scientist and may be a tougher, more competitive individual, but a hundred years of contract law adds up to nothing much worth talking about.

  35. All the parties I went to in Oz, everyone just got drunk. I stopped going because it was boring, unpleasant, demeaning and pointless. 
     
    It’s better to stay home and read, go to bed early, get up at 6.00 am and go running. It’s surprising how many hot girls are out there roller-blading and whatever. That’s how they get to be hot. 
     
    Many hot girls play tennis and it is one of the few sports where men and women team with each other (think mixed doubles). There is a point to watching professional tennis, but don’t watch the ball, watch one of the players. It lifts your own game. If you live in a climate not conducive to tennis, you can substitute badminton, but that’s relatively nerdish (or Danish). 
     
    No other man will like you for being smart. No other man will like you for being right. You make them feel inferior – why should they like you for that? 
     
    But then who cares? What use are male friends anyway? Women friends are useful, attractive, they smell good, and they have lots of other female friends to meet. Men fail on all four. 
     
    Intelligence is sexy. I don’t want to have sex with any woman stupid enough to believe in astrology. I might modify that slightly for someone who looks like Jessica Alba. 
     
    DD – the best government slogan of all time in Oz was “Life is not a spectator sport”. I don’t know your experience, but in my observation the same toxicity existed in Australian schools that JE described in American schools. Fuck ‘em, life is about getting out and doing the stuff. Physical fitness and good health are also sexy. Women worth having are attracted to men who do things, not just talk.

  36. On “Nerd” vs. “Geek” and possible regional variation: John Hughes (of Midwestern background) said that the characters Anthony Michael Hall played in “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” were geeks rather than nerds because a geek will grow out of it but a nerd never will. Thus, for him, nerd was more pejorative. My own (northeastern) experience, however, is very different and is closer to Caledonian’s and John Emerson’s: a nerd is academically oriented, while a geek is oriented towards science fiction or Dungeons and Dragons or (pace Daniel Dare) video games. Thus, geek is more pejorative.  
    As for g-dropping, in my experience is a an extremely common trait, even among the educated and intelligent. Those with a high education level or upper/middle class background do it less often than those with a low education level and working-class or lower background, but I have met very few people besides myself who are punctilious about never doing it, even among so rarified a group as Ivy League professors and graduate students.

  37. P.S. I don’t want to be PC, but surely it is a little cruel to make the opposite of “nerd” “tardish” (a word I have never heard before but that Razib presumably derived from “retarded”). What about the large middle group of people with ordinary intelligence?

  38. What about the large middle group of people with ordinary intelligence? 
     
    do u socialize with this group much james in your day to day life? my two best friends in high school were in the 100-110 range.

  39. Yes, sandgroper, 
     
    What use are male friends anyway? Women friends are useful, attractive, they smell good, and they have lots of other female friends to meet. Men fail on all four. 
     
    That hit me when I was around 20. I haven’t had a serious male friend since. Never missed them either.  
     
    There’s one other thing that males can do to seriously improve their chances with women, other than stay fit and lean. Get rich. Seriously. Money is worth getting on top of. It is the one learned skill that can totally transform your life in so many ways. It’s worth devoting serious mental effort to solving the problem of personal wealth.

  40. It takes far more (or should that be ‘less’?) to make a tard than just having average or even below-average intelligence, just as there’s more to being a genius than having a high IQ score.

  41. It takes far more (or should that be ‘less’?) to make a tard than just having average or even below-average intelligence, just as there’s more to being a genius than having a high IQ score. 
     
    true. i started using the term after being irritated by smart-asses who didn’t know what they were talking about and were used to talking down to people all the time trying to lecture….

  42. What use are male friends anyway? Women friends are useful, attractive, they smell good, and they have lots of other female friends to meet. Men fail on all four. 
     
    That hit me when I was around 20. I haven’t had a serious male friend since. Never missed them either.
     
     
    This type of talk makes me sad. I have a lot of great male friends and they are useful for bouncing ideas off of, working on creative projects with, and venting frustrations with to name a few. I guess if your whole life is about improving your chances with women, then skip the friends and aim for the money, but whats the matter with a little personal enrichment? And is there such a thing as a purely platonic female friend or is there always that angle you’re workin? 
     
    Re: nerdcore. It’s a hoax. These cats aren’t even smart, they’re worker bees who know the jargon enough to get by and they got the right software for beats. There is no emotion and the delivery is all tongue-in-cheek.  
     
    Anyone familiar with the backpacker phenomenon in hip-hop? I think it’s like the Guitar God worshippers of yesteryear and probably a lot like baseball statistic memorizers. It’s a weird level of nerddom because you can sneak in acting like you are cool and into rap music, but after a while the truth becomes apparent. You’ve just been analyzing the lyrics and the allusions made by the samples instead of having parties and dancing to it.

  43. I’m glad I bothered to follow the link and read the article ’cause (I guess for all the nerds reading it) the author actually spelled out what the slang use of the word ‘blood’ means (i.e. friend). Huh — never knew that. :-P 
     
    jaakkeli: Yes, you do have to talk about that stuff to be considered social… one of the most essential social skills (which I’ve been very badly lacking in, personally) is finding the lowest common denominator stuff to talk about with a new person. 
     
    Talk to a new person?! My impression is that Finnish people barely speak to the folks that they know, let alone to the ones that they don’t. You guys are prolly the least talkative of all the Nordic peoples! Not that there’s anything wrong with that…. ;-)

  44. amnestic, 
     
    I have a lot of great male friends and they are useful for bouncing ideas off of, working on creative projects with, and venting frustrations with to name a few. 
     
    That sounds like “colleagues” not a serious friend. Serious friends get into your soul. All adult males are rivals – They don’t get within a mile of my soul. For me, souls are open only to children, women and cats. (or is that katz?)

  45. amnestic – You need to read me as a bit tongue in cheek. I do have a fairly eclectic mix of male friends. They just don’t smell as good as my female friends. Sorry if my clownishness inadvertently caused sadness. 
     
    And yes, there is such a thing as platonic friendship with women, at least in my case. I don’t know if this is possible for most men, but I know at least two of my male friends have genuinely platonic friendships with women.

  46. I room-shared with a Finn once. He spoke Finnish, Swedish, English, German and Russian – but not a lot.

  47. Agnostic, you said it really well! One of the strange things about places like GNXP is how they’re full of guys who will rant about PC denial that IQ is mostly fixed by genetics but who will then act like an above average IQ is somehow an accomplishment that they can be proud of. A tall guy who mocks short guys is considered an asshole, because he did nothing to get tall; he was just lucky with genes. Socially savvy people generally recognize IQ differences and their immutability even if they’re publically PC and they know you did nothing to become smart. 
     
    John Emerson, one obvious difference between Finnish and American schools would be that in Finland, obligatory schooling stops after the spring of the year when people turn 16. So, about half of the kids eject from general education at 15/16 and head off to learn a less academic trade (or just apply for a permanent burger-flipping job). This is of course mostly the less intelligent and less academically oriented half, so things get somewhat different after that, and things get easier for guys since after that the schools tend to have a female majority. 
     
    At 15, when everyone is still there, it’s a zoo, not a school. I can’t imagine what it would be like if that would’ve gone on for even longer. The shy, short nerdy kids with glasses would’ve been eaten alive, I’d guess (I was never a *shy* nerd, I was the very loud, tallish and rebellious guy with a really bad unrecognized genius complex… aaarrrrgh, just thinking about it makes me want to go back in time so that I could beat myself up!). Other differences are that the driving age is 18 (guys who’ll be car-obsessed will be car-obsessed long before they can drive and that’s nerdy) and that schools don’t have real sports teams so there’s no special prestige in being good at a sport.

  48. jaakkeli, American schools don’t have real sports teams either. They indulge in pretend sports that few other countries play.

  49. Razib: I’m not sure I understand the reason behind the question, but yes, I associate and have associated with such people quite a bit. Not that I was IQ-savvy enough to calculate the IQs of my high school friends in numerical form at the time, but I certainly knew people well who in retrospect were clearly in the “100-110 range.” My high school was actually not particuarly nerd/anti-nerd stratified, actually; a nerd would not be Big Man on Campus but after junior high he would be unlikely to be persecuted either, unless he also had an obnoxious personality (not just poor social skills, which I certainly had, but overtly obnoxious).  
    bioIgnoramus: Actually, NorthAmericans invented (or in the case of baseball and football, developed) three great sports to which European sports are inferior (and actually, I believe basketball is rather popular in Finland).

  50. i wonder how successfully the idea of nerd ‘translates’ to countries outside of n america or western europe. i taught in bangladesh for a year, and it was all topsy-turvy. the most popular kids were the prefects or form-leaders, nerdy know-it-alls who would’ve been pounded to dust where i grew up, and the dim-witted kids who clustered in the back rows were the outcasts….

  51. I also wonder how far back these stereotypes go even in western culture. In the opening chapters of Vanity Fair, for example, we have a description of Cuff, the uncontested social king (and abuser of that status) at an early nineteenth-century English public school, who is not only the tallest and strongest and most athletic, but also the smartest. He particularly impresses his social inferiors with his skill in classical languages. Dobbin, a principal character in the book, is unpopular partly because he is not very good at his studies, except in math. (Later in the book, as an adult, he is described as intelligent and well-read in all subjects, so I guess he was a late bloomer.) When Dobbin stands up to Cuff’s bullying and beats him in a fight, Cuff displays his newfound respect for Dobbin by tutoring him in Latin!

  52. Dunno if it’s country-wide, but basketball was very nerdy when I was in school. It was what the rejects were doing when real men were playing ice hockey. Basketball isn’t rough and doesn’t even have regular fist-fights, but of course it’s still way cooler than WoW. I don’t know of anyone who would’ve liked American football, it would’ve been bizarre. When I was 15, I would’ve said that American football was invented for those sissies who were too big for ballet – it just looks silly and gay. Basketball is at least a real sport, even if it’s not the manliest thing around. 
     
    Baseball would be the big exception with Finland. There’s a Finnish development that’s close to American baseball and it has been popular for almost a century. (But of course summer sports are not that big at schools, since the season doesn’t overlap that much with the school year…)

  53. There’s a Finnish junior hockey player who was sent to Canada specifically to learn rough stuff, so even Finnish hockey is sort of wimpy.  
     
    Oxford and Cambridge produced a fair number of pretty good athletes, as well as quite a number of military officers. The British elite code of manners, which Americans regard as wimpy, still held, however, so an Oxbridge intellectual would seem wimpy to us even though he might be a combat veteran and former near-world-class athlete.  
     
    George H W Bush was a jock (Ivy division), a combat fighter pilot, and head of the CIA, but because of his manners he seemed wimpy to people. Total misconception.

  54. From my observations (pretty extensive in terms of both breadth and depth) I don’t think the nerd concept translates to Asia at all, but geek does. Brendon’s observations in Bangladesh can be pretty well generalised to Asia. High academic achievement is generally admired among peers and the high achievers tend to be the popular leaders. The low academic achievers tend to be the social fringe/outcasts. Geekism is also widely lowly regarded by the mainstream. 
     
    Having said that, video game playing in moderation is regarded as normal for both genders, not anything nerdish or geekish. Excessive game playing to the point of obsession is geekish and uncool. Girls are perfectly comfortable with things like car racing and will give sound technical reasons for why they choose e.g. a Lotus instead of a Ferrari. They also have no problem with shooting and sword-fighting games etc, both of which are regarded as perfectly normal for girls. Interest in spectator sports is also regarded as normal for both genders. The Manchester United Football Club is currently doing a tour of China and has been greeted everywhere like pop stars by both genders. There is huge interest in e.g. English Premier League and Spanish top flight soccer in China, including among teenage girls. This is regarded as perfectly normal. Any Chinese schoolgirl can tell you who people like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry are. 
     
    Achievement in sports at school also tends to be highly regarded, particularly in the sense of doing well or trying hard for the team or the school, as are other extra-curricular activities like inter-school singing competitions. Individual success is regarded as bringing prestige to the school, which is a biggie. Competition among schools, particularly in academic achievement, is intense, and getting into a ‘good school’ is highly competitive and a very big deal. 
     
    However, participation in sports is quite widely discouraged by parents in favour of academic pursuits, and in e.g. traditional Chinese culture excessive exercise is regarded as ‘bad for girls’. Parental influence tends to be strong because of traditional Confucian attitudes towards family. Parental networking is strong and poorly performing progeny are regarded as bringing shame to the family and loss of face in the social circle/network. 
     
    In subject streaming, it is widely regarded that the brighter students choose science subjects and the lower achievers are stuck with arts. Science-related careers (medicine, engineering, etc) are regarded as much more presitigious than those involving arts, for both genders.

  55. In Taiwan in 1982-3 I observed that studious men are regarded as sexy even if they’re quite wimpy, and that parents favored their brighter children to a frightening degree. There was no pretense of “loving them all the same”.  
     
    The level of interest in sports then was very, very low. It’s not a default conversational topic with strangers, the way it is here. Few people cared much. 
     
    The admiration Americans feel for charming, sexy, athletic, suave, well-dressed guys didn’t seem to be there at all. In one class there was a terribly shy, homely guy who was poorly dressed even by the local standards. He was a tech geek of some sort, a devout Buddhist (rare in China, Buddhism is usually very nominal), and his hobby was growing orchids, which is pretty geeky and technical (not a common yuppy thing like here). The whole class just adored him; he became the class leader.

  56. I wonder what might be the cause of the differing attitudes towards nerds in Asia and North America?

  57. Re: nerdcore. It’s a hoax. These cats aren’t even smart, they’re worker bees who know the jargon enough to get by and they got the right software for beats. There is no emotion and the delivery is all tongue-in-cheek. 
     
    Yeah, smarts can help you improvise dialogue to some degree. The real acid test for whether nerds could appropriate Black culture is to throw them on the dance floor and see if they could even find the beat, let alone do anything more.  
     
    That’s a more salient difference between Blacks and Whites — I don’t recall a single Black comedian talking about how Whites aren’t good at whatever skills it takes to rap. So it must be a small difference, and the fact that nerds can fake it shows that it’s not a very honest signal of Blackness. But what plenty of Black comedians point out, and many White comedians mention in self-mockery, is what horrible dancers a lot of White people are. IQ ain’t gonna help out there.

  58. yeah.. if you wanna make yourself sad, watch the guy start waving his arm around during this performance 
    http://www.thefader.com/blog/articles/2007/07/11/video-quik-live-at-the-fader-summer-music-party 
     
    Speaking of the term tard… quote from Mavado from the same site.. 
     
    “I?m not asking for trouble, I?m just askin / Lawd? / When my enemies come to send me to the graveyard / Let the first shot they fire blaze my heart hard / Cause I?d rather be a memory than a retard??

  59. White boys can’t dance. That’s a fact. 
     
    But there’s nothing worse than seeing Chinese boys trying to copy Afro-American youth culture. Phenotypically highly unattractive, not to mention irrelevant. 
     
    Wearing jeans with the crotch hanging down around your knees looks bad enough when you have long legs. When you have short legs – no. And it reduces mobility to near-zero. You have all these guys trying to look cool while they’re creeping around with little short steps and falling over. 
     
    It’s like seeing an African-American guy in a Chinese jacket doing kung fu – doesn’t work visually.

  60. Aren’t you guys forgetting something? What are the whitest types of pop music around? Various descendants of rock and roll, of course. And where did that come from, if not from white people appropriating black culture? (Doesn’t Bill Haley look über-nerdy compared to, well, pretty much any black musician?) 
     
    I have this vision that in 2060, almost everyone still doing rap is white and everyone has forgotten that it was once considered black music. Black people will reject rap as white culture while they have moved on to some new style and on to mocking white people who are trying to imitate it… and white people will complain about this black stuff corrupting their youth with obscene lyrics and everything. (And I’ll be an old fart complaining about how nobody makes real music anymore.)

  61. LOL! 
     
    J, it’s a sobering thought that the people who listened to Bill Haley are now running America.

  62. As an interesting sidenote to the white boys can’t dance idea, apparently East Asians can. 
     
    The South Korean team recently won the world break dancing competition, beating out the American team.

  63. I wonder if some of the greater appeal and mainstreaming of “nerdlike” traits in the US over the last generation reflects the rise of a largely Ashkenazi Jewish media elite. That is, it’s a cultural archetype carried forward from what such baby boomers remember of their own nerdlike youth upwardly mobile in the Bronx, etc.

  64. sandgroper said : 
    It’s like seeing an African-American guy in a Chinese jacket doing kung fu – doesn’t work visually 
    — 
    Only if you’re not used to it. While i was growing up in an african country, kung fu and other asian martial arts seemed a significicant youth subculture. Kung fu movies were extremely popular and some young men took these things very seriously . 
    — 
    About nerdcore : 
    It’s surprising how segregated the scenes can be. The only black people who seem to be part of that scene are black nerds who only have white friends anyways. Some speak and dress “black” but they still only have white friends .  
    The segregation can go quite far: I once ran into some guy in a chatroom who was looking for people into nerdcore rap like aesop rock/daedalus/prefuse73/etc and he actually said that he wasn’t into “n*gger beats” like 50cents ! I asked him a few questions and he basically said that he was into rap, not into hiphop and that as far as he was concerned, that was white music now even if it had been invented by black people. I was surprised by his willingness to admit to it. 
     
    about the original article : 
    I guess for that “researcher” , it’s all about black people, all the time. One would think that the nerds use their large vocabulary to convey precise meaning , but no, it’s all about signifying that they’re not black .  
     
    Poor nerds.  
    If they are into black culture, they’re coopting, exotifying, exploiting and exerting their “white proviledge”, whether they intend to or not (as progressive types will tell you, intend doesn’t matter ) . 
     
    If they don’t particularly feel close to mainstream black culture (certainly the case for me ), they’s shunning , outcasting , separating , keeping out , segregating , excluding, etc.  
    As usual with people of a certain mindset, if you’re white ( or rather, if you’re not black/latino/gay/etc) you’re wrong no matter what .

  65. That happened everywhere. There is nothing visually anomalous in a non-Asian practising Asian martial arts, I do it myself, although adaptation is often necessary – a style that works for a short Indonesian guy who has powerful legs because he has lived in a rural village in a steeply moutainous region all his life may not work well for a tall long-legged urban white male. Assimilating something organically is different to role playing. You don’t actually need to wear the jacket and pretend you are Chinese to do the stuff. You do need to assimilate the essence of what you are trying to learn. It is the pretentiousness that looks anomalous.

  66. Okay Americanos, lets’ not let the stereotyping go toooo far. Speaking from African experience, it is almost exactly the same as Asia. The athletes were considered a bit dumb (in the multiracial private schools the minorities played the sports; minorities as in whites and Asians). Actually white people are quite famous in Africa for playing sports: cricket/hockey/tennis/rugby/swimming were totally white with black sports being soccer and netball. Track was 50/50 I kid you not. Australian schools might visit and what did we find – in Australia the white girls killed at netball and soccer is quite a white sport in Europe lol. Being a black majority country the smartest people were black, obviously. Whites, being a minority just could not match black people and they regularly had to go to university overseas if they wanted a shot at a university education. They also were generally middle/upper middle class which in Africa usually translates to less motivated/lazy (oh yes, the poorest people in my country were generally the best students) and so by default our top university medical school/law school is almost completely black working class/lower. 
     
    As for popularity, it was all about being a Prefect/Headboy/Headgirl, which required intelligence, excellent academic record, and some sort of extracurricular activities. Average intellect materialistic people were generally lower in status than intelligent and sporty people. Intelligence alone was also greatly rewarded and admired. The more A’s a guy got, the better he was!

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