Friday, May 13, 2005

Do Your Thing

I often say
that everyone's a geek, you just have to find their subject.

I usually say this when justifying my obsession with games, gaming and game-related stuff.

My wife, for example, looks perfectly normal. But ask her about some obscure fact concerning Buffy the Vampire Slayer and she will respond in record time. She will then, whether you wish it or not, proceed to lay out the events preceding, coinciding with and following whatever obscure fact with which she was initially presented. And she is like this about all the tv shows she watches.

So it is with some satisfaction, naturally, that I point out she is a tv-geek. After all, geekery loves company.

Contemplating this word 'geek', I stumbled upon this, which offers up a few good sources for the word's origin. It's early usage means fool or simpleton. The later, and more familiar, connotation refers to a circus performer that bites the head off live chickens (or some variation of this). This may have been where it picked up its connotation of having an intense interest in some subject -- after all, you'd have to be pretty damned interested in chickens to eat them alive (just a guess).

Regardless, the word seems to have been picked up to use as a moniker for the socially outcast, especially those whose interests don't appear to correspond to the mainstream (e.g. High School scientists, drama clubbers, et al.).

Like many derogatory words, however, geek has had its script flipped. This means that it's been absorbed by those it was once meant to offend and had its meaning modified. There is, of course, another word that has undergone this process, so there's precedent for you.

Now the word geek is used affectionately amongst people with keen interest in their pet subjects. At least by me.

And I have chosen to universalize the word. After all, isn't memorizing pages of sports facts and statistics a little scary and obsessive? Isn't spending hours in the gym, studying muscle groups and designing the perfect nutrient shake not all that different from spending hours playing Final Fantasy VII, studying chocobo breeding instructions and designing the perfect blend of materia to defeat Ruby Weapon?

Which is why, when my wife watches 'America's Next Top Model', I can't help but comment on how the judging panel is full of total fashion geeks. Or when I see the frightening couples on 'Showdog Moms and Dads' I nod knowingly.

Just visit a hobby garage some time. You'll find people with an encyclopedic knowledge of engines and other vehicle-related components.

Not long ago my car refused to idle. Seeking help, a friend of mine showed me that I could tape spare change into the throttle, which worked well enough to get me to the garage. I walked up to the front desk and explained my problem. The exchange went like this:
"My car isn't working right."
"What's wrong with it?"
"It won't idle. It'll start, but then it stalls before I can put it in drive."
"What year?"
"Make and model?"
"Mercury Cougar."
"Yeah, you've got a bad Idle Air Control Valve. But I'll run a diagnostic to make sure."

The diagnostic, of course, confirmed the analysis. That, my friends, was the result of a true car geek at work. has a pretty good secondary definition: "A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept."

I call for the 'socially inept' part to be stricken from the end, and for the first part to be considered common parlance. It's about time that word got its new meaning recognized and recorded.

Let your geek flag fly.


Corvus said...

I've come to describe geeks as people who have the capacity to become dynamically involved in more than one topic. Most pick a specialty or two, but they are quite capable of engaging in _your_ pet topic as well, as they strive to be well rounded. That removes some of the socially inept qualities.

A nerd (by my definition) knows vast amount of data on a single topic and relates everything to that topic. So, if you complain of a bad back, or a failed relationship, or rejoice in a financial windfall, their response, for example, would be to relate the events of a Star Trek episode, moment in a Star Wars book, or what have you.

P.S. I wanted to follow the "another word" link in your post, but it leads to a post edit function and I clearly can't do that!

Deacon said...

I like that geek/nerd distinction. Very clear.

I fixed that messed up link. Thanks for letting me know.