The Changing Connotations of the Words Nerd and Geek

Rose Crooks & Brandon Fink
John Green, co-founder of the Nerdfighters
Connotation is the social meaning of a word,
what it means to people rather than a
dictionary definition (Oxford English
Dictionary Online, ed., n.d.).
Amelioration is defined as a change in
connotation, an improvement, a word
becoming associated with more positive things
(Oxford English Dictionary Online, ed., n.d.)
Is there evidence to assume that the words are
in the process of amelioration?
Is there a definition difference between nerd
and geek?
How does gender, major or career, and first
language influence the definition of nerd and
The Survey:
Part 1 - Biographical information
 Part 2 - 8 questions about different types of people,
Would they be considered :
 Nerd/geek
 Gender
 How they feel about this person
Part 3 – Question 9, self identification – yes/no
Example question
8. A person who attends scifi/fantasy conventions in
Circle which word you would apply to this person:
Nerd Geek Both Neither
This person is most likely:
Female Male Other___
Circle the picture that best represents your feeling about
this person:
70 participants from
5 upper division classes
67 students and 3 teachers
25 male, 43 female, 2 not indicated.
Age Groups:
(43) 18-24
 (12) 25-30
 (8) 31-35
 (7) above 35
Question 9 (Self-Identification Question):
feelings towards words nerd and geek
Questions 1 – 8: supplemental information.
Respondents with generally negative responses
Reaction against stereotype.
No Response (to question 9)
~ half more negative
 ~ half more positive
Respondents with generally positive responses
Self-identified using the word nerd
Self-identified using the word geek in their
Self-identified as both a nerd, and a geek, or said:
“Yes” and went on to describe.
Is amelioration happening?
 Yes, 67% of responses positive.
 Both negative and positive connotations (No
response group) still exist,
 the meanings are still in flux
Definition difference?
 Words seem to be used interchangeably
Does gender, major or career, first language
influence the definition ?
 Age may have some affect
 No conclusion for: gender, first language, major
 Sample group limited
The words nerd and geek will
continue to ameliorate (become
completely positive)
The definitions will continue to
“I feel like when you are passionate
enough about something that it
doesn't matter what other people
think, you could call yourself a nerd.”
(Quote from survey respondent)

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