What is a Geek?

As a part of my blog makeover, I am trying to be more intentional in my writing. It seemed logical, then, to dedicate a post to geekdom.  What is a geek, exactly?  What manner of witchcraft is geekery?  Who is a geek?  Why should anyone want to read about geek life?  Why are you even here?

Because I am a fancy person, I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, or the OED, as we sad Englishy types call it. The OED defined “geek”(n., informal) as

  • 1a: an unfashionable or socially inept person
  •  1b: [usually with modifier] a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast: a computer geek
  • 2: a carnival performer who performs wild or disgusting acts.

I included the second definition for grins and giggles – if you fit that definition, I accept and affirm you as a human being, but please do not feel the need to elaborate in the comments section.  Not all sharing is caring, kids, and what happens in the Big Top should stay in the Big Top. 

The first definition (both parts) is fairly standard – it makes me think of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his cohorts on The Big Bang Theory. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past six years, first of all, I want to know how anyone lives under a rock.  Secondly, the show follows Cooper and his scientist friends as they muddle their way through social situations and make Star Trek references.  Hilarity ensues.   

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They can build a nuclear reactor; just don’t ask them to fix the elevator that’s been broken for six seasons. Or to go on a normal date.

When people think of geek culture, I imagine this image is one of the first that comes to mind.  Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Big Bang.  I find it a loving tribute to geek culture.  However, I find both it and the OED definition of the word to be lacking – at best, they form a partial image of geekdom that doesn’t quite encompass the true meaning of the word. I consider myself to be a geek, but I know next to nothing about science and math and I consider my social skills to be…passable, at the very least.  The use of the word “obsessive” also bothers me a little bit, if only because it seems kind of…stalkery.  I am passionately interested in BBC costume dramas, but I don’t have a shrine to them.  In fact, I’d say I’m fairly well-adjusted.

Don’t all agree with me right away.

So, where do we go from here?  If we take away the social ineptness and the obsessiveness (which are qualities that a geek may possess, but doesn’t have to), we are left with a word we don’t understand.  This word gets thrown around a lot – you have your car geeks, your lit geeks, your computer geeks.  Is everyone who has an interest a geek?  

Let’s talk etymology. Sexy, I know.  The OED states that the word comes from the “late 19th century: from the related English dialect geck ‘fool’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly.'”

Charming.  Thanks very much for that, OED.  Super-helpful.

Is it possible, though, that being a geek is what’s considered “mad?” That it’s not the geeks themselves who are strange, but the act of unapologetically pursuing an interest, of learning more about a topic than is strictly necessary?  A car geek knows more about cars than he or she needs to in order to drive, and a movie geek knows more about films than is needed to sit in a cinema.  I can tell you more about the history of the Marvel Comic Universe than you probably want to hear.  It’s a question of moreness.  

This moreness is frowned upon, I think.  It’s funny: we live in a world where we are pushed to acquire more and care less.  Apathy and self-consciousness are no longer considered rude – in fact, it’s the social norm.  We thrive on irony, on being “cooler than cool.”  You can blame the beatniks or the corporate mentality or the hipsters, but the fact remains that being passionate about anything is terribly unfashionable. It makes people uncomfortable.   

That’s what a geek is – someone who is brave enough to care more than they need to.  Geeks ask the “What if?” questions, because they have the courage to wonder about the world, the universe, and human beings.  A common phrase in geek culture is “I regret nothing,” usually paired with a gif of a spinning disco chicken.  Which is fantastic.  Geeks make it a policy to avoid regret, to stop castigating themselves for thinking thoughts beyond the mundane.  They really want to know who would win in a fistfight between Abe Lincoln and Ned Stark.  And they want to write about it, or draw it, or put it on a t-shirt, because they want to share that moreness with everyone else.  At the core of fantasy and science fiction and good horror is the moreness – the willingness to ask what more could happen.  

The OED definition of “geek” is too negative, I think.  In its simplest terms, geekhood is a positive quality. It’s not defined by a lack of social skills or a lack of balance – it’s all about how much more we could be.

 

– katierose