"You're not a nerd, you're just -- coolness-challenged."
—Clover, Totally Spies!
A Nerd is someone who... actually, it is easier to describe a nerd as what they are not. Not smooth, not handsome not someone you would instantly describe as 'attractive'. Not, above all else, popular outside a very narrow grouping of fellow-nerds (and usually, not at all stupid). Oftentimes, a walking, talking fashion-disaster. One definition of a nerd is someone who not only didn't attend his high school prom, but would be puzzled or even offended at the suggestion that he would want to. Most nerds portrayed in the media actually fail this test, but real-life nerd Joss Whedon passes.
The term gets conflated with Geek fairly frequently, as it happens that a nerd can be fairly obsessive/informed about a particular topic.
The nerdiest nerd is a nerd who isn't even a Geek.
One of the odd features of the nerd on TV is that they will be over-formally dressed (probably as a result of the Hollywood Dress Code) usually, at least a plaid polo shirt and slacks. In fact, in real life, both nerds and geeks tend to dress more casually than the average person, because they usually don't care as much about clothes or appearances. (The hyper-formality is likely due to another stigma - that nerds let their parents dress them.) There are some nerds whose clothes would fit the stereotype, though.
Many, if not most, nerds are so socially inept because they actively dislike company with Average Joes and not so much because they just don't know how to act. Well, according to them.
Most people may have first heard this term from the Sitcom Happy Days, where it was Fonzie's pejorative of choice, but etymological studies have traced it back to Dr. Seuss' book If I Ran The Zoo, though he spelled it "nurd". Note that, like with Geek, the definition of a nerd is not set in stone and can vary greatly depending on context.
Anime and Manga
- Konata Izumi of Lucky Star is a self-described hardcore geek, despite being inexplicably athletic.
- Andy from Calvin and Hobbes The Series.
- Napoleon Dynamite is pure nerd. No Geek-ness at all, no skills, knowledge or, quite possibly, any understanding that there might be such things as skill and knowledge.
- The movie series Revenge of the Nerds, which describe themselves as including the Nerd, the Geek and the Spazz as their heroes (not to mention the slob, in Booger's case).
- Back to The Future Part I: Marty's father, before Marty goes back to 1955 and while he's in 1955.
- Jerry Lewis played a Comic Books nerd in Artists and Models. An early example.
- Note the Geeky Wobbler's ambitions in Terry Pratchett's Johnny and The Bomb: "Wobbler wanted to be a nerd, but they wouldn't let him join. He wanted to be the kid in a deformed anorak and milk-bottom glasses who designs killer software and is a millionaire at thirty. Failing that he'd settle for being someone whose computer didn't smell of burning plastic whenever he touched it."
- One of the earliest literary examples of the term other than Dr. Seuss can be found in the 1967 novel The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson, where it's used in a considerably more pejorative way than it's generally employed, in describing the book's primary (human) villain, Laszlo Scott:
The trouble was that Laszlo was a skunk, a nerd, a slimy loathsome thing whose major joy was to bring trouble and discomfort to everyone he encountered.
Live Action TV
- Freaks and Geeks featured nerds more than geeks, mostly because freaks and nerds don't rhyme.
- Beauty and the Geek is more about nerds than geeks, but "geek" is phonetically closer to "beast" than "nerd."
- Owen Pronsky from Less Than Perfect is a classic example, complete with Nerd Glasses, social ineptness and overall weirdness. Also, he sells office supplies for a living.
- Basically the entire cast (save for Penny) in The Big Bang Theory.
- Steve Urkel of Family Matters is a geek. His Nerdiness is played up even more; his dress style, high pitched voiced and total social awkwardness.
- They Might Be Giants, kings of the nerd rock genre, wrote a song called "The Mesopotamians", which portrays Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh as a cross between The Monkees and Gorillaz. It's an allegory of the Beatles ("I thought you crashed your car"), and that no one cares about them anymore... save the geeks.
- The band 2 Skinnee J's first single was titled "Riot Nrrrd"; this title both represents a claim of affiliation with the Riot Grrrl movement and an attempt to "reclaim" the label "nerd."
- Turn on G 4 TV and you're more than likely to find a bumper or two of several Nerd Core rappers rapping about things that ordinary people would find nerdy; e.g. Console Wars, computer hacking, hell, even just video gaming in general. The bumps appear to be a movement to turn "nerd" into a term of endearment and/or empowerment. The performers include YTCracker, MC Lars, and MC Frontalot, who looks a lot like the image at the top of this page. Ironically, the majority of G4's programing has nothing to do with what they claim is their intended demographic.
- Are we not men? We are Devo!
- But Captain Spectacular has seen through Ziltoid's facade, and now sets out to expose Ziltoid for what he really is: a nerd.
- Eric of Loserz. See here. He might still be a Geek, though, and later manages to get a girlfriend and get laid. Wish fulfillment?.
- Mindy of Cinema Bums. Particularly on subjects related to movies.
- Dinosaur Comics: In this strip, T-Rex conflates nerds and geeks when he speculates that God's omniscience must make him the Ultimate Nerd.
- When Terry of Kate Modern joins the Hymn of One, he becomes a cheerful, mild-mannered nerd, complete with a cardigan and, inexplicably, Nerd Glasses. In "Precious Blood" it is revealed that the nerd persona was all an act. One of the first things he does after being discovered is to get rid of the cardigan and the glasses - he can see just fine without them.
- "Bad Decision?", Chapter 2 of LG15: the resistance features "the sexy nineteen-year-old fact finder also known as... Research Nerd!" (actually Sarah with Nerd Glasses, a collared shirt and tie and her hair tied back).
- Spencer from Lonelygirl15 is a scientist who likes to wave a lightsaber around and claims he can't exercise because he suffers from nociception. All together: "What Up, Blogosphere!"
- The Angry Video Game Nerd. And here, we speak about the character, not the actor James Rolfe, who actually got a life on his own. And even the Nerd character only has the look of nerds in the general, his popularity is immense. Just don't imitate his style in real life.
- The Nostalgia Critic has a Troll nerd ("Douchy McNitpick") who constantly points out the errors in his reviews.
- Dragonball Z Abridged has Piccolo refer to Son Gohan as a nerd, whenever he goes off on a rant.
- In Doppelganger they form an entire clique. Victor is one and so is Lisa to a lesser extent.
- Pretty much every deviser or gadgeteer at Super-Hero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. Even the attractive ones (like Bugs and Widget) tend to be obsessive about their inventions, weird in various ways, etc. Bugs has a fascination with the egg, even building inventions into egg shapes.
- The Simpsons
- The show referenced the difference when Milhouse insists to Bart he's "Not a nerd. Nerds are smart." Which is actually roughly the reverse of the definitions being used here, although "smart" is an attribute commonly associated with nerds.
- There was an episode where Homer went to college and yelled "Neeerrrd!" at a passing student.
- In the Show Within a Show, School of Hard Knockers, "Nerd" was apparently a catch-all to describe anyone who wasn't a Jock. Basically, taking the Saved by the Bell viewpoint and then dumbing it down to Homer's level.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: Nerd zombies, geeking up over a Yipper card. Of course, they weren't really zombies, just painfully obsessed.
- Beth from Total Drama Island. Smart but socially awkward, complete with Nerd Glasses, Braces of Orthodontic Overkill and a n not so imaginary boyfriend
- The definitions of 'geek', 'nerd' and sometimes 'dork' vary wildly, depending on age, region, and a variety of other factors. It's hard to find two people who agree completely on the difference. Starting a discussion on which is which tends to generate an absurd amount of Internet Backdraft wherever you go.