The Taxonomy of the Nerd

I have been using this to entertain people at parties for years, and I’ve finally decided to write it down.  I have to credit my good friend Sam Cooper as the co-creator of this graph.  (Check out his band, Horse Feathers.)  The very first Nerd Graph was rendered on a napkin at Abo’s Pizza in Boulder, Colorado sometime around the turn of the millennium.

As a nerd, I have always been interested in nerd anthropology.  Non-nerds often fail to understand that not all nerds are created equal.  In my years of careful observation I have identified four distinct subspecies of nerd.  I believe that all nerds can be generally grouped as follows: geek, dork, creep and loser.

They are identifiable along a Cartesian spectrum:

Keep in mind that these are not static categories; any nerd could be represented as a dot somewhere on this graph.  The “perfect nerd” (as dubious and elusive as a cryptozoological creature) would be a dot falling exactly at the intersection of all four categories.  I will now detail the distinguishing characteristics of each subspecies of nerd.

GEEK

Nerds who are both intelligent and social are geeks.  The geek is generally the most well-adjusted and successful nerd.  His nerdiness usually does not prevent him from, if necessary, “passing” as a non-nerd when interacting with mixed company, although he feels most comfortable in the company of other geeks.  I am a geek.  Most of my friends are also geeks.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not cool.  Geeks may, for instance, do drugs.  This does not make them non-nerds.

Identifying characteristics

Obsessive and/or arcane hobbies: photography, backgammon, etc.

Expansive knowledge about a certain subject: for instance, there are music geeks, movie geeks, etc.

Ability to “pass”

Mating habits

Geeks usually have sex with other geeks.  Female heterosexual geeks may have sex with non-nerds, and sometimes male creeps—very rarely with male dorks.  Male heterosexual geeks usually only have sex with female geeks, though there are observed instances of male geeks having sex with female dorks.  Male geeks also sometimes have sex with non-nerds, but it is observably rarer than with female geeks.  However, a relationship between a geek and a non-geek rarely lasts, for at some point the geek’s mask will slip.

Where to find them

Music stores, book stores, liberal arts colleges, graduate programs, “hip” neighborhoods in major metropolitan areas

Quintessential geek

William Jefferson Clinton

Bill Clinton’s ability to “pass” is uncanny, and as for intelligence and sociability, he maxes out both scales.

DORK

The dork is social and unintelligent.  The dork is social with other dorks.  A dork in isolation becomes a loser (see below).  Dorks often have not achieved sufficient self-awareness to realize that they are dorks.  Dorks like to think of themselves as geeks—they would.  They are not geeks.  Unfortunately, they are not at a viable vantage point from which to determine where they stand in relation to other nerds on the chart.  From their position, geeks do not look like nerds.  Geeks, however, know the difference, and are rarely fooled when a dork attempts to integrate into geek society.

Identifying characteristics

Non-ironic enjoyment of live-action role-playing games; Dungeons & Dragons, Magick: the Gathering, etc.

Self-identification with subcultures as expressed in style of dress: Goth, Cyberpunk, “Steampunk,” etc. (Usually any subculture with the suffix “punk” fits, as, for that matter, does any deliberately named subculture.)

Nightmare Before Christmas paraphernalia displayed on person

Every dork owns a copy of at least one Neil Gaiman book

Mating habits

Dorks almost exclusively and by necessity have sex with other dorks.  There are far fewer female than male dorks, resulting in a bottlenecking effect.  Thus dork societies are often matriarchal: an even moderately attractive female dork will rapidly sail to the top of a dork social hierarchy.  A heterosexual female who chooses to enter dork society will never want for dork suitors; however, she can never come back.  Dorks also like to brag to one another about their kinky sex practices, which they also embrace non-ironically.  Polyamory, bondage and S/M are particularly popular among dorks.

Where to find them

Attend a Renaissance Festival.  You will be unable to throw a rock without hitting one.  Please throw it hard.

Quintessential dork

This guy:

[A note on a key difference between the geek and the dork: geeks may partake in dork pleasures, such as comic books, science fiction/fantasy and so on.  However, for the geek these pleasures cannot be indulged in without some element (however trace) of irony.  The dork enjoys them unabashedly, seriously, and respectfully.  A geek may harbor a Tolkien obsession; dorks are usually into "Fantasy" as a genre and concept.  As geeks know and dorks don't, that's a big difference.  Arguably, the dork is purer of heart than the geek.  This is the dork’s consolation for being objectively dumber.]

CREEP

The creep has the respect of the geek, but cannot—usually by choice—enter geek society.  The creep can even be social with nerds and non-nerds alike, but if you meet a creep you will feel an impenetrable wall around him.  There are, obviously, far fewer creeps than geeks.  The creep is usually a man of few words—that’s part of what makes him creepy.  The creep is a creature of extremes: for instance, the creep is more likely than other nerds to be a complete teetotaler, but the creep is also more likely to be a severe alcoholic.  The creep may have a mild autism-spectrum disorder, such as Asperger’s.  The creep is far more likely than the geek to be politically conservative.  Libertarianism is an especially popular political sympathy among creeps.  The overwhelming majority of creeps are male, though there are anecdotal accounts of female creeps.

Identifying characteristics

Distant, scary look in eyes.  Otherwise, most creeps dress and behave much like ordinary people.  Creeps usually have no sense of humor: they do not tell jokes or laugh, unless to express derision.

Mating habits

We’re not saying it has never happened, but there has never been a confirmed incident of a creep having sex with another creep.  However, the male creep may sometimes have a certain sexual allure to female nerds and non-nerds alike.  Often the creep seems entirely asexual—or worse, to have secret sexual proclivities far “kinkier” than the silly and self-congratulatory “kink” of the dork.

Where to find them

Your IT department; houses with Ron Paul campaign signs on lawns; suspiciously sitting alone at unusual times of day in public parks.

Quintessential creep

Theodore Kaczynski, AKA the “Unabomber”

LOSER

The loser (AKA “tool”) is a nerd so socially undesirable, not even the dorks will have him.  The loser is cursed with both low intelligence and poor social skills.  He walks the earth like a pariah, pitifully glomming onto social groups who always eventually reject him.  Unlike the creep—who is usually solitary by choice—the loser’s solitude is unwanted.  Nobody wants to be friends with him.  He is not smart or interesting or fun in any way.  He is annoying and occasionally creepy, but unlike the creep, he is creepy in a way that no one could ever fear or respect.  Much like the dork imagines himself to be a geek, as a reaction to his loserhood, a loser will assume that he is an inwardly tortured genius merely because he is a social outcast.  He is wrong.  His self-projected dark genius is mere poseury, fooling only himself (self-deception is easy when you’re a loser).  This is why the loser is actually more dangerous than the creep.  Many assassinations, mass murders and acts of domestic terrorism are not actually committed by creeps, but by self-deluded losers presumptuously striving to be creeps.

Identifying characteristics

Irritating voice

Seeming ubiquity

Uncanny inability to tell when his presence is unwanted (for example, a loser may obliviously remain in the company of a couple who clearly want to have sex until he has to be told to leave)

The loser usually has some inexplicably repulsive physical trait: for instance, a permanently chapped lower lip

A zero-level fashion sense: dorks, despite looking very silly, often do dress well in their own way.  Sometimes when trying to infiltrate dork society, the loser will don the vampire cape/top hat/Doc Martins of the dork, but somehow be unable to pull it off.

Mating habits

None to speak of.  The loser will, however, discourse at eye-rolling length on his sexual exploits, which all non-losers—even dorks—will immediately perceive, with embarrassing obviousness, as made-up.

Where to find them

Anywhere you don’t want them to be.

Quintessential loser

Mark David Chapman, assassin of John Lennon

How to identify a nerd

What is a nerd?  How can we determine whether or not someone belongs on the graph at all?  This is a difficult question, and I have devised only one surefire answer, although it is an admittedly subjective and sociologically unsatisfactory one.  It is a simple litmus test: whether or not one is interested in the graph.  If I draw the graph and begin to explain it, I can tell who is a nerd and who is not based on who pays attention.  If I draw the graph and someone shrugs and turns away, I know that person is not a nerd.  If I draw the graph and begin explaining it and someone displays even remote interest, then I know that person is probably on the graph.  If you have read all the way to this last sentence, then you may rest assured that you are a nerd.

6 Comments

Filed under Nerds, Uncategorized

6 responses to “The Taxonomy of the Nerd

  1. Laura Grasso

    Funny, funny. Thx for sharing on FB. RSS’ed ya.

  2. Pingback: On Human Social Dominance Hierarchies «

  3. Stephanie B.

    I’m glad you wrote this down for posterity, but I’m even happier that I have one of the original documentations of this party favorite. Bravo, Ben!

  4. Stunning! At last the scales have fallen from my eyes. Like Oedipus.. before he stabbed them out.

  5. naturalabstract

    Glad to know where I stand Ben.

  6. Pingback: Session 59 – Thursday 18th August 2011 « Ukedchat's Blog

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