Survey and dictionary agree: geeks are chic

Gallery of geek: Four of the world’s favourite nerd heroes. Who would you add?

Comic book heroes smash box offices, memes rule the internet and a new survey suggests that many people now aspire to be geeks. Are we witnessing a revolution in popular culture?

‘Boring and unattractive’, ‘unfashionable’, ‘socially inept’. All of these terms have appeared in respected dictionaries, under the heading ‘geek’.

According to a recent survey, however, these definitions are badly in need of revision. A word which began life describing circus sideshow freaks before morphing into a dreaded playground insult is now widely viewed as something to aspire to. Geeks, according to research by the advertising agency Inferno, are generally considered ‘cool and chic’.

Now, dictionaries are finally catching up with popular perception. This week the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary announced that ‘geek chic’ was among a raft of new entries to its virtual pages – along with other timely words such as ‘twerking’ and ‘selfie’.

The term has of course been in use for many years. But its official acceptance into the English language is a sign of just how far geeks have penetrated into popular culture. The biggest blockbusters of recent years are based on superhero comics that geeks once hoarded, while TV shows like The Big Bang Theory have turned misfits into popular heroes.

In some quarters, excitable obsessives have practically been turned into idols. TED Talks, for instance, give intellectuals a global platform to talk in depth about the single idea that fascinates them – and they have been successful beyond their founders’ wildest dreams. Physicist Brian Cox, statistician Nate Silver and the knowledge-hoarding, technology-loving comedian Stephen Fry have all developed an enormous fan base.

What has sparked this geek renaissance? One culprit may be the internet. Geeks have always been associated with technology, and those who are comfortable with computers have a huge advantage in the online world.

Some also point the finger at the growing proportion of the world population who attend university – and the fact that education is increasingly important for a good career. Perhaps that has given demonstrations of detailed knowledge and intelligence a wider appeal.

Peak geek?

Whatever the cause, say many proud geeks, this once maligned subculture has clearly inherited the Earth. And about time too: enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and even a slight obsessive streak are the key ingredients of an active, enquiring mind. Join the revolution, they say. ‘Geeks of the world, unite!’

But not everybody sees the revolutionary potential of geekdom: this is just a superficial phenomenon, some say. A craze for thick-rimmed glasses and a penchant for sci-fi or fantasy are not signs of intellectual curiosity. Geek chic is nothing more than a fashion trend.

You Decide

  1. What is a geek?
  2. Is a word’s definition determined by what a dictionary says or how most people use it?

Activities

  1. We atThe Dayhad a hard time agreeing on four faces to fill our geek gallery. Do you agree with our choices? Pick your own top four geek heroes!
  2. Pick one subject that particularly fascinates you and make a brief presentation designed to introduce it to others.

Some People Say...

“Geek, nerd, goth punk – they’re all just worthless labels.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Are you saying likingSpiderman or Avengers makes me a geek?
Not necessarily – in fact, plenty of self-proclaimed geeks would probably object to that idea. The exact definition of a geek is hotly disputed (including by geeks themselves) but most people agree that it has something to do with intense interest in very specific subjects.
So how do I tell if I’m a geek?
It’s all subjective, and ultimately it doesn’t matter much one way or the other! You certainly shouldn’t worry about being too intellectual or getting heavily into your hobbies though: as well as helping with your education and career, allowing yourself to be engrossed by things is a source of satisfaction and joy.

Word Watch

Twerking
According to the Oxford Dictionary’s new entry: ‘to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.’ Twerking grew up in the hip hop scene but entered mainstream consciousness last month when the pop star Miley Cyrus controversially incorporated it into a performance.
Selfie
An amateur self-portrait photo, usually taken on a smartphone.
Brian Cox
A particle physicist who gained adoring fans with his eager and articulate performances as a TV presenter. Cox played keyboard in a moderately successful band from the 1990s and gave his son the middle name Eagle after a spacecraft.
Nate Silver
Originally famous for his unerring predictions of baseball results, Silver resurfaced in 2008 with an equally impressive record in guessing the outcomes of US elections. His accuracy, which is based purely on statistical analysis, has been likened to witchcraft.
Stephen Fry
‘The UK’s favourite clever clogs’ is fascinated by science, runs a technology blog and claims to be obsessed with linguistics. ‘Incuriosity is the oldest and most foolish failing there is,’ he once said.

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