back to article What's the difference between GEEKS and NERDS?

A data scientist says he has settled one of the most pressing conundra of the digital age. He has discovered the difference between geeks and nerds. Burr Settles, software chap at crowdsourced translation platform Duolingo, rooted through millions of tweets to find the sorts of words that were used at the same time as either …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Okay, that means I fall under the category of "Nerd Geek" :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A Nerd is someone who is socially inadequate and not the sharpest tool in the box who you'd avoid.

      A Geek is one of the sharpest tools in the box, you'd let him sort out a problem, is more socially aware, you'd tolerate but avoid because his intelligence make you look stupid under some circumstances. No one like being with the class swot.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @Anonymous Coward

        Wrong way around my friend - a Nerd is a Geek with a high IQ. You don't have to be clever to be a geek (a trip to any games/comic con or star trek conference will demonstrate that) but you need smarts to be a nerd. Nerds are problem solvers, geeks are just fanboys under a different name.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Me too... we need a new designation!

      Neek or Gerd?

      1. Euripides Pants

        Re: Neek or Gerd?


      2. cortland

        Need a Gerk?

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    I thought this had been settled years ago:

    The difference between, geek, nerd & dork Venn Diagram

    Or, for you XKCD fans..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @A Non e-mouse

      In the first Venn diagram Dork should be replaced by Stalker

    2. hitmouse

      And the difference between geek, nerd, dork and XKCD fan Venn Diagram?

  3. jake Silver badge

    The Venn diagram is pretty much inclusive, IMO.

    There might be a few small lobes sticking out the edges, though ... Most show symptoms of Asperger's ... I hire them wherever possible in technical roles. Good folks to have around, on-time, trustworthy, and only jump into a project if they actually know what they are doing. With a little cajoling, they can usually be persuaded to admit that "I don't know, can you show me?" (or words to that affect) ... It's a trust thing in people like this, at least in my perspective and experience :-)

    1. Martin

      ...or words to that EFFECT...


      Affect - the verb - this will affect you.

      Effect - the noun - this will have an effect on you.

      (Does that make me a geek, a nerd, or just a pedantic git?)

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: ...or words to that EFFECT...

        Nah, a frustrated English teacher, which is a whole different Venn diagram ;)

      2. jake Silver badge

        @Martin (was: Re: ...or words to that EFFECT...)

        Martin, when people speak the words "I don't know, show me" in my hearing, said words have a positive affect on them. I teach them when I can, and if I can't, I find someone who can. Re-read mine in that context.

        Was mine improper written/typoed English? Perhaps. Improper use of the language? Not so much. English is wonderfully flexible that way.

        I'll purchase the next round if we can agree to disagree :-)

        1. Martin

          Re: @Martin (was: ...or words to that EFFECT...)

          I'll always accept a beer!

          As egregious errors go, I admit that effect/affect doesn't bother me half as much as, say, loose/lose or there/their/they're. I can see effect/affect becoming interchangeable in the future - but loose and lose will never be, so long as I have breath to moan about it.

          1. frank ly

            Re: @Martin (was: ...or words to that EFFECT...)

            Relax Martin. There's no need to loose sleep over this sort of thing.

            1. jake Silver badge

              @frank ly (was: Re: @Martin (was: ...or words to that EFFECT...))

              He's not loosing any sleep, frank ly. He's having a pint.

              Can I get one in for you, too?

      3. David Given

        Re: ...or words to that EFFECT...

        I will see your pedantry, and raise you more pedantry.

      4. C 18

        Re: ...or words to that EFFECT...

        If you noted that 'affect' is both a noun and a verb, as is 'effect' then you could have qualified as all three perhaps...

        As it stands you're an 'honorary mention'...

        I'll get my affects and effect a swift departure henceforth...

      5. Pookietoo

        Re: Affect - the verb Effect - the noun

        Except that affect can be a noun (like affectation) and effect can be a verb (to effect change).

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    And what do you call someone who picks -

    or in case of unavailability, invents - the best tool for the task at hand with little regard for how 'cool' it might be?

    Ah yes. That would be an engineer.

    1. Cliff

      Re: And what do you call someone who picks -

      +1 for insight

      But you miss the point of the article. The point of the article was to get the researcher / infographic company some publicity by pigeonholing based on some pretty unimportant attributes. If you want the engineers of this world to be recognised in future in depth studies like this, they need a collective label like 'gineers' or something. We used to use 'hackers' until the press stole it from us...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And what do you call someone who picks -

      What's the difference between an applied scientist and an engineer - the engineer can't spell engineer.

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    It's exactly the wrong way round.

    1. Eponymous Cowherd
      Thumb Up


      Geek = tech professional

      Nerd = Dwayne Dibley

      1. Originone

        Re: Agreed

        Dwayne Dibley is most definately not a nerd. He would be a dork and therefore not part of this conversation.

  6. Eponymous Cowherd


    Nerds wear anoraks and have an unhealthy interest in trains and busses. Geeks don't.


  7. graeme leggett Silver badge

    why it's obvious now they've done the analysis

    because theses predicates are patently true

    1) twitter is a medium in which the ability to express concepts in the English language is not at limited in any way

    2) a wide and representative cross-section of English language speakers use twitter

    Like bollocks are they.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: why it's obvious now they've done the analysis

      There was nowhere on the Venn diagram to fit statisticians.

      I suspect what we have learned is what arts graduates and journalists consider to be geeks and nerds.

  8. saundby

    Rather than consult one expert,

    let's harness the ignorance of thousands, and call it knowledge.

    1. tirk

      Re: Rather than consult one expert,

      A classic "truthiness" post (sounds clever, but is just plain wrong). The question is one of the use of two words, particularly in popular culture, so the "experts" are indeed, the masses, statistically analysed as here. IMO.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Rather than consult one expert,

        But they aren't "the masses". It's like the famous Truman/Dewey election where the newspapers called the result completely wrong because it was based on telephone interviews - and more Republicans had telephones than did Democrats.

      2. Tomato42
        Thumb Down

        Re: Rather than consult one expert,

        just because general population uses "ecological" as "mindful of nature" doesn't change its real, bio-science meaning

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).

    Why "(and vice versa)"? Does that mean you can have a geek who is also a nerd but when he's being a nerd he's not a geek? Oh, (and vice versa).

    Or maybe it's a process of transformation, a person who is primarily a geek starts to exhibit symptoms of being a nerd and there is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phase until the nerd takes over (and vice versa).

    Which begs the question, do geeks aspire to be nerds or vice versa.

    1. Kubla Cant

      Re: Redundancy

      @Chris W

      >many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).

      Why "(and vice versa)"?

      If the set of geeks is smaller than the set of nerds, then the intersect set will not be a large proportion of the nerd set, so many geeks could be nerds without many nerds being geeks. For example: 80% of 100 geeks are nerds, but there are 1,000,000 nerds, so the 80 geek nerds are a drop in the nerdy ocean.

  10. Gray Ham

    Some equally scientific research ...

    .... that I conducted on the bus home the other day, among some Marist College year 10 students (they were chatting with the young lady sitting next to me) reveals that nerds are now cool. If Marist lads think it is so, then it must be so.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some equally scientific research ...

      I'm afraid your scientific reasearch is invalid. Proper scientific research is done in laboratories using data from other studies.

      So here's what you need to do.

      Write up your study, for the purpose of this example we'll assume that your comment serves and even better it has been published. Put on a white coat. Go into your kitchen and turn on your gas hob, if you don't have gas then light a candle, cigarette lighter or anything with a flame that you can pretend is a bunsen burner. We now have the correct environmnet for performing proper scientific research. Using long words you are not quite sure the correct meaning of write up the findings of numerous studies you have researched, in this case one but what the hell. Submit your paper to a scientific journal for peer approval. In other words repost your comment as true scientific research and wait for us to give our opinion.

      1. Gray Ham

        Re: Some equally scientific research ...

        This all sounds very hard. Besides, I can't remember where I put the matches.

        Instead, I think I'll just create a new discipline - nerdolinguistics - where I can write whatever balderdash I choose and shout loudly at anyone who disagrees with me

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some equally scientific research ...

          "Instead, I think I'll just create a new discipline - nerdolinguistics - where I can write whatever balderdash I choose and shout loudly at anyone who disagrees with me"

          Sorry, Alastair Campbell has copyright on that one.

    2. Nuke

      @ Gray Ham - Re: Some equally scientific research ...

      Wrote :- "If Marist lads think it is so, then it must be so"

      We are already struggling with what "Nerds" and "Geeks" are, now you bring in "Marist Lads". WTF are they? If they were chatting to a young lady it is obvious they cannot be either. So where are they on the Venn diagram?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Gray Ham - Some equally scientific research ...

        Oh thank god - it's not just me swimming in the waters of ignorance over 'Marist Lads'.

        And it would be really useful to work out where that splendid British English word - 'boffin' sits on the spectrum.

  11. Neoc

    From the interweb

    geek /gēk/ Noun

    An unfashionable or socially inept person.

    A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: "a computer geek".

    nerd /nərd/ Noun

    A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious: "one of those nerds who never asked a girl to dance".

    An intelligent, single-minded expert in a particular technical discipline or profession.

    So basically he's retelling what the interweb memes already knew (including the fact they are both socially inept). Depending on the subject(s), I'm either a Nerd or a Geek... or sometimes both.

    Note that "geek" was originally an old carnie term for the freaks in their show, circa 17th/18th century. This was pre-empted by high-school culture circa 1950s.

  12. Ole Juul

    I hate pizza

    so I don't fall into either category. Besides, they seem to have ignored the age requirement here. People over 60 who do technical things as a way of life don't call themselves anything. It's only the younger generation who think there is anything unusual about being interested in something.

    1. wowfood

      Re: I hate pizza

      How can you hate pizza? It's one of the godly food groups. Cheese, Bacon, Pizza (wich has cheese and can also have bacon) tea, chocolate, etc etc.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: I hate pizza

        I love Bread, Cheese, Bacon, Tomato, peppers, salami. But somehow Pizza spoils them :) There are some decent pizza though.

    2. Richard 81

      Re: I hate pizza

      In as far as it is possible to say encountering a disembodied name on the internet is meeting someone, you are the first person I've ever met who doesn't like pizza. I didn't think it was even possible. I suppose some people just don't like the taste of delicious.

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: I hate pizza

      My father advised me three things with regard to food:

      1) never eat anything with tomatoes

      2) never eat anything that looks as if it's already been eaten

      3) never eat anything bigger than your head

      He completely failed to anticipate pizza...

    4. jake Silver badge

      Re: I hate pizza

      How the hell can you hate Pizza? All it is is a hot, open-faced sandwich. Dough base[0], zillions of sauce options, including "none at all", zillions of toppings of choice, including "none at all", any and all cheeses (or none!), any & all herbs & spices (again, or none at all!) ...

      Bung it onto a hot stone (500F in a home oven, my outdoor grill can get up to 700F, my outdoor 1875 stone bread oven gets to about 950F) until done. Serve with cold fizzy beverage of choice.

      Or better, leftover cold pizza out of the fridge for breakfast with a cup of scalding black coffee ...

      [0] Thick, thin, whatever ... I prefer a crust that's a cross between ciabatta and focaccia, tossed to about a quarter of an inch in thickness over most of the pie. I make it as plain old bread about three times per month.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: I hate pizza

      'People over 60 who do technical things as a way of life don't call themselves anything'

      +1 to this, Sir. But, as a person of approximately half that age, I don't 'call' myself anything either. I never saw why learning things / reading / having interests required apologist labelling. Honestly, I think the more socially insecure are predisposed to label themselves 'nerd' or 'geek', labouring under the misapprehension that a caveat or disclaimer should be slapped on their forehead for having a personality. Or, <GASP>, being a bit eccentric.

      I don't talk about or force my interests on anyone unless they ask my advice, in which case they'll get it. If they don't agree / don't listen, I don't care if I know I'm right.

      1. Red Bren

        Re: I hate pizza

        "As a person of approximately half that age, I don't 'call' myself anything either."

        As a person marginally closer to 30 than 60, I call myself Red Bren. What other people call me is another matter...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    current trend

    At the moment, it seems to be hip among yoofs to brandish a sort of nerd / geek affectation.

    Hell, I even saw a young lady wearing a top at the weekend emblazoned with 'NERD' in minimalist typeface. It's - and I'm gagging to say this - 'fashionable' at the moment. Thick rimmed specs, sultry poses on Facebook in geeky attire. They do really think they are nerds, simply by virtue of the time they spent on Twitt -- OMG DID YOU JUST SEE WHAT DARYL PUT ON FACEBOOK LOL

    But it's just that - a trend. Give it another couple or three years, and we'll be back spiritually where we always were - getting picked on for doing our homework.

  14. WibbleMe

    A Geek is someone that knows everything about a subject

    A Nerd is someone that has no social skills


    So, where do's that leave the Boffins and egg heads ... ?

    and more importantly, how do you begin to categorize the Psycho's at DARPA

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      .. and what about smart arses? how do you define them?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So, where do's that leave the Boffins and egg heads

      I may have posted this before, in which case sorry, but the compliment I most value is the one once paid to me by a Royal Tank Regiment sergeant in the early 80s. I had turned up for a field trial with boots and a boiler suit.

      "You know, Sir," he said, "you're quite sensible for a boffin".

    3. Kubla Cant

      The Boffins [sic] and egg heads possibly know how to spell "does", and that there is no apostrophe in the plural of "Psycho".

    4. Richard 81

      Both are just names for scientists.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mis-read the headline first as "What's the difference between Greeks and Nerds" and was expecting something to do with goats...

  17. Steve Crook

    Who cares?

    Geeks don't care about the difference between Geeks and Nerds, Nerds do.

    Am I the only one that looks at the Cafe Nero sign and reads Cafe Nerd?

  18. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Is it just me

    Or are these researchers just begging for an Ig Nobel Prize?

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    And remember

    Beware of Geeks bearing gifts

    Sorry, couldn't resist

  20. Michael C.

    It's all geek to me.

  21. Mage Silver badge


    Beware Geeks bringing gifts*.

    But don't worry about Nerds.

    (*Remember the "free" USB Mouse exploit?)

  22. ShadowTD

    Very simple

    I've always said the difference is easy to define - geeks get laid (albeit with other geeks). Nerds are too socially awkward.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very simple

      Sorry, no. I have observed over my years in the business how the sex drive can overcome social awkwardness. You may need to investigate the properties of, inter alia, ethanol and Star Trek conventions. Especially in combination.

  23. OzBob

    And what do you call yourself

    when you fall into both definitions and don't want to be either? I'm going with "arsehole".

  24. RISC OS

    Nerds are american...

    ...geeks are world wide

  25. C 18

    In my not so humble opinion

    Both monikers were applied in a derogatory sense originally to those who were seen as 'more interested in the blinkenflashen lightzen'.

    Then those who were named such decided to embrace the terms in the vain hope that they could become 'cool' just as the other minorities embraced their derogatory terms in the not-so-vain hope to do likewise (gay, 'nigga' &c).

    Unfortunately, this didn't really work, but that's not because geeks and nerds are not cool. It's because we know something they don't, and we're comfortable about that while they are not.

    Beware of geeks bearing gifts... The geek will inherit the earth...

    We did create the internet, we're keeping it up and running, we're chasing the dishonesty in the banking system, we're cleaning up all the crap.

    We will make the world a better us whatever the fuck you like, if you're not one of us we don't give a fuck (maybe that's our 'social ineptitude' but then if bringing the world to financial ruin and all the other crap the non-geek and non-nerd types are doing, I'll take social awkwardness over that any day.)

  26. NogginTheNog

    WTF is...


    1. Anonymous Coward 15

      Re: WTF is...

      Like eBay for supposedly handmade crafts, but actually mostly resellers. For the horror stories see Regretsy.

      1. Kubla Cant

        Re: WTF is...

        I too was about to ask "WTF is Etsy?".

        Now that I know, I can't help wondering where this guy got his data from, given that "Etsy" occurred frequently enough to be significant. I work in an environment populated entirely by people who are geeks or nerds or both, and I see no evidence of a taste for handmade crafts.

        Incidentally, I though a geek was a fairground performer who bites the heads off chickens, though I've never seen a satisfactory explanation of why anyone would pay to see this done.

    2. C 18

      Re: WTF is...

      I have been known to refer to the ubiquitous '/etc' directory this way, but I'm not convinced this was the referent in this article...

  27. The Vociferous Time Waster

    The difference...

    At night a geek dreams about having sex in space, a dork dreams about having sex and a nerd is recompiling some tweaks into the kernel of his home made compute cluster.

    1. cortland

      Re: The difference...

      "Say the magic word and the duck will come down..." *

      -- Marx

      Here in Michigan we have a self-styled nerd for a governor -- and a computer repair business calling itself The Geek Squad. Possibly better than the other way around.

      Imagine a bunch of earnest young men fixing computers, biting the heads off live chickens for lunch. Or a governor who does. Sets bounds on things, doesn't it?

      Beer -- because there's no tea. *And no Hundred Dollars.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    geeks are cool

    nerds are not

    it is, as they say, the Age of the Geek, afterall. it's not, and has never been, the age of the nerd.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I like the venn diagram

    The venn diagram seems good enough to me (I don't care if people call me a Geek or Nerd - I take them both as compliments).

    I would change one thing though, and that is to relabel the bit of 'obsession' that does not intersect with other areas as 'fanbois'. To me a fanboy is somebody who has all the obsession but has lost rationality and a sense of logic - therefore they sit outside of the 'intelligence' sphere. As they also love showing off their 'toys' they are normally not socially inept either.

  30. admiraljkb

    I always thought the biggest difference was...

    Geek = Intelligent, and all that, and really techno oriented. Probably watches Star Trek and like SciFi.

    Nerd = Geek + "not only goes to Comicon, but goes dressed as their favourite Klingon." (for extra bonus points, the Klingon in question has to be the most obscure possible, and they'd be happy to explain it at length the significance of "ToR", credited as "Klingon #5" played by ..., who was at the back of scene 5, episode 12, on stardate 749024)

    I'm mostly in the Geek category, but I do have Nerdy friends. :) Re-reading the above, I think it could be shortened to:

    Nerd = Geek with Aspergers...

  31. sisk

    Wrong premise

    He started out with the wrong definition for nerd. Nerd, according to everyone I've ever heard from on the subject who has an opinion worth noting (in other words, people who realize it's not an insult to be hurled at people smarter than them) is simply a very smart person with wide ranging knowledge. His definition of geek is spot on, but nerds aren't subject specific.

  32. Mr Spock

    This guy is neither a nerd nor a geek.

    He's just a hipster who wants some friends.

  33. mrfisma

    Nerd definition

    A nerd sees something working in practice and wonders if it will work in principle.

  34. The last doughnut
    Thumb Down

    I don't often bother with comments these days

    Quote "Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking."

    If you had put this at the beginning of the article you would have saved me two minutes of pointless reading.

  35. AB4CT

    Geeks - Nerds -- We've got that settled - How about BOFFINS???

    So, now we have Geeks & Nerds sorted. How about Boffins??? In the US, we don't use the term boffins, but refer to scientists or engineers or mathematicians or any number of really smart guys and gals. Then what is a boffin and what is a scientist or engineer or mathematician or any number of really smart guys and gals"?

    #I don't claim to be either#

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