A nerd by any other name

When I was growing up, I was a dork.

Through the 80's and into the 90's, if someone wanted to insult me, their go to label was "dork."  I played Dungeons & Dragons in study hall, my bookshelves were lined with books with the words "Dragonlance" or "Forgotten Realms" on them, and every week I rode my bike (and later drove) to the comic book store for my weekly haul.

I am, by no means, denying the label.  I even embraced it.  I was proud to be a part of that subculture.

But then, in the late 90's and into the 2000's, I became a geek.

I'm not sure when, exactly, this happened.  In some ways, I suppose it was society's attempt at preparing for the upcoming X-Men movie (2000), which ushered in geek chic.  But I remember being called a geek even before X-Men came out.  Perhaps the pop culture consciousness of the moment saw what was coming and decided that "dork" was a term that the mainstream wouldn't like.  "Geek" seemed a bit more acceptable, and "geek chic" rolled off the tongue and could be used to describe almost anything.

So I became a geek when I was once a dork, even though I hadn't changed anything about myself.

"Geek" seemed to have staying power.  "Geek" seemed like it would be the go to term for everything remotely fantastical.  People began attaching the word to web sites and avatars in an effort to distill their essence down to one word.

Bu then, a few years ago, something strange happened: I became a nerd.

Again, I'm not really sure when, exactly, this took place, but as the sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero genres continued assailing pop culture, society once again decided that the prevailing term for someone who enjoyed these things wasn't user friendly enough.  The aforementioned social consciousness looked at anyone who had formally been called a "geek" and noticed that many of them were really smart, and many of those smart people worked on computers.  So if "geeks" were smart, and smart people were called "nerds," then we could just make a neat little swap.

I don't mind being called a nerd.  It does have a better sound than dork or geek, and isn't also a term for male genitalia or a guy who bites the heads off chickens.  No, the only thing I find weird about it is the fact that I'm really not all that smart.  I might be slightly above average, but that's only because I read a lot.  And I have little to no computer skills.  For a guy who grew up calling actual, certified geniuses "nerds," being called one myself seems dishonest.

But "nerd" is easy for people.  It's non-threatening.  It's even comforting, in some respects.  And it's amorphous, so it can be applied to almost anything.  If you're obsessed with rocks, for example, you could be a "rock nerd."  As the subculture has expanded into the mainstream, the mainstream has adapted how it describes us so that it doesn't feel like it's letting the riffraff in.

I can't help but wonder what's next.  What will I be called ten years from now?  What happens when the nerd revolution sputters and dies?  If the process is reversed, then perhaps I'll downgraded to geek, before being dropped back to dork.

And I still won't have changed.