Nerds: A History

At the present moment, I would classify myself as a nerd. I love to read, write, watch BBC TV series, and all sorts of other things that your average person would think was geeky. This isn’t something that I view in a negative light- on the contrary, I am very proud to be a nerd. Apparently modern-day society does not want me to be happy with this label, because when I looked up the word “nerd: on the search yielded some rather startling results. The first definition stated that a nerd was “a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.” The second definition claimed that a nerd was “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.” I don’t agree with these definitions, but we’ll deal with that topic later in the post. For now, I have a few questions. From where did the word “nerd” originate, and how did it come to mean what it does today?

The very first written account of the word “nerd” that we possess is actually a children’s book. In 1950, the famous Dr. Seuss wrote the book If I Ran the Zoo, which contains the line, “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too.” And it sort of makes sense, when you think about it: Dr. Seuss used the word to describe a weird, kooky creature. Could it be that Dr. Seuss is the one behind this overused stereotype, this negative teenage slang? However, there are those who believe that it originated before the publication of this book. It is said that the word “knurd,” spelled differently from the way it is today, comes from “drunk” spelled backwards. Apparently it is how drinkers used to describe the non-drinkers, who didn’t like to party and were therefore seen as antisocial outcasts. There really isn’t a way to know what came first, so for our purposes whatever you would like to believe is fine.

No matter which theory you believe is correct, one thing is for certain: the word “nerd” spread like wildfire. In 1951, only one year after If I Ran the Zoo was published, nerds were featured in an article in Newsweek magazine. The article was concerned with teenage slang. This tells us that at some point the term became so common that it became “cool” for teenagers to frequently say. The term continued to grow in use and popularity in the 1960s, until becoming extremely popular in the 1970s when the television show Happy Days began to use it often. As the media’s influence on society has increased in the past few decades, so has the popularity and the controversy over this simple little word.

John Green, one of my most favorite authors of all time and one of my biggest role models, has a great definition of the word “nerd.” He once said: “Saying ‘I notice you’re a nerd’ is like saying ‘hey, I notice that you’d rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you’d rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan.’” This is the definition of “nerd” that I fully and completely agree with. To me, a nerd is someone who cares about not being ignorant, who is enthusiastic about things, who is willing to look past the negative aspects of people and accept them for who they actually are inside. It may sound corny, but that’s what I think the definition of the word “nerd” is.

Information was gathered using the following sources:,,, and




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