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Nerd [ nɜːd ] ( English modern for " computer freak "; originally for "eccentric") is a term for people with social deficits who have special interests.

Depending on the context, the word has either approving or pejorative connotations. In computer circles it is considered a real compliment.

On the positive side, a nerd is an individualist who, through having sufficient specialist knowledge, has a corresponding degree of social recognition within the respective scene. On the negative side, nerd is a stereotypical term for a cranky loner who is awkward in social matters and who sits in front of the computer all the time and thus gets into social isolation beyond the computer .

Nerds primarily associate three characteristics with other nerds: "social networking at the click of a mouse, irony and intelligence." As a particularly pronounced form of the computer geek, the nerd has the cliché of a loner who only leaves the house with a confessor T-shirt, mainly alone or acts within isolated groups and does not value the opinion of noobs . The word is used beyond the computer environment as a term for mostly male technology enthusiasts who are particularly interested in science fiction or other areas of science and technology.

It is a word imported into colloquial German that originally comes from the US slang used in schools, colleges and universities. There it is used as a synonym for “eccentric”, among other things in the sense of “ professional idiot ”, “idiot” or “nerd” and not exactly loved “ loner ” of a class; as an alternative to the so-called jock . While the term originally had a negative connotation, it has developed into a self-deprecating self-term among technology enthusiasts, especially when they show an affinity for hacker culture . The development goes up to a more positive change of meaning , which influences the colloquial language especially through media like television series; from the pure outsider role to a person who advances society (for example by comparing with Archimedes and Bill Gates ).

Origin and development of the term

According to a contribution by Spiegel Online , the phenomenon of this stereotype is probably as old as humanity itself. Archimedes is listed there as an example , a Greek engineer and physicist from the 3rd century BC, who today could well be described as a nerd . He developed weapons, calculated the number pi and discovered the laws of levers, but is said to have had much less interest in personal hygiene. Legend has it that Archimedes even died because of his nerdism: completely immersed in a mathematical problem and painting geometric figures in the sand, he grunted a soldier who was approaching him with the words "Don't disturb my circles". For this he was slain.

The origin of the word is unclear. The first written evidence is found in the poem If I ran the zoo by Dr. Seuss from 1950:

"And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!"

In the Online Etymology Dictionary , nerd is defined as follows: "1951, US student slang, probably an alteration of 1940s slang nert" stupid or crazy person, "itself an alteration of nut. The word turns up in a Dr. Seuss book from 1950 ("If I Ran the Zoo"), which may have contributed to its rise. "

According to an article in the IEEE Spectrum of the IEEE 1995, the term nerd originally comes from reading backwards from drunk , meaning: knurd . Accordingly, the term refers to college graduates who avoid parties. Over time, “knurd” became “nerd” (“kn” at the beginning of the word is pronounced “n” in English).

The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines nerd as:

"- a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.
- person who is very interested in technical subjects, computers, etc.
- Full Definition: an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially; one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds> "

- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

The Duden took up the term in 2004 and defined it in jargon as derogatory for "very intelligent, but socially isolated computer fan". According to the German scholar Andreas Osterroth, a further establishment in German as well as positive reinterpretations came about through dubbing of American series such as The Big Bang Theory 2009. According to Osterroth, there was an amelioration especially in German after the term was originally used as an antonym in English to the so-called Jock , an athletically and erotically successful high school student. “Nerd” is therefore a typical Geusen word .


Wil Wheaton , American actor, regularly admits in his autobiographies and in his weblog to his private life as a nerd and also embodied a young nerd in his role as Wesley Crusher in the science fiction series Spaceship Enterprise - The Next Century . Linus Torvalds , Finnish programmer and initiator of the Linux kernel , whose development he has coordinated to this day, describes himself as a nerd in his book Just for Fun .

In many media reports Bill Gates is portrayed as a former nerd, for example Peter Glaser wrote in Stern magazine in 1996 : “The nerds are taking over the world right now” and are “a bunch of unattractive, neurotic boys who look like you can talk to them Knock the blotter unconscious ". The term found cultural reception in popular culture such as Revenge of the Nerds ("The Revenge of the Eggheads"), a four-part American film series in the mid-1980s. Newer Anglo-American sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory or The IT Crowd ironically exaggerate the behavior of so-called nerds. According to journalist Christian Fahrenbach, the figure of the nerd is also embodied in films such as Matrix through the role of Neo, Scott Pilgrim against the rest of the world or The Social Network . Magazines like De: Bug or Wired would also contribute to a positive connotation. The Dutchman Max de Bruijn wrote a book as early as 2000 under the title How do I become Bill Gates: Raising and living the common nerd .

As a frequent subject of satires and parodies , the original nerd cliché is closely linked to artistic representations of the same, whereby frequently recurring external identifying features were given a special consolidation in the cliché and, on the other hand, contributed to the development of new fashion accessories . One of the best-known film artists who deal with the figure of the dry, clumsy intellectual is Woody Allen , who shows himself among other things in corresponding film roles with horn-rimmed glasses . In a retro wave , similar glasses were initially called mockingly as nerd glasses, but a short time later they were also offered in stores under this name and received even greater popularity and attention.

Filmmaker and artist Johannes Grenzfurthner , director of the nerd documentary Traceroute (2016), analyzes the essence of nerdism in an interview with Zebra Butter magazine:

The nucleus of nerdism is difference. The desire for understanding, for the opportunity to share experiences, not to be left alone with bizarre interests, but at the same time an almost perverse joy to wallow in this deficit. Nerds love the lack: that of others, but also their own. Nerds are eager researchers who like to measure themselves against each other and then also aggressively compete, but being nerd also has something occult and secret about it. How that power is then expressed or focused is very important.

Female nerds

While real women continue to be underrepresented in the German IT industry and “not even a tenth of the IT departments are occupied by women”, “female nerds” can now be found as the main characters in films and series. Prominent examples of fictional female nerd characters are: Rihanna as Nine Ball in Ocean's 8 , Tatiana Maslany as Cosima Niehaus and as Veera "MK" Suominen in Orphan Black , Jamie Clayton as Nomi Marks in Sense8 , Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander in Conspiracy ( 2018) , Carly Chaikin as Darlene Alderson in Mr. Robot (TV series) , Aimee Garcia as Ella Lopez in Lucifer (TV series) and Sibel Kekilli as Sarah Brandt in Tatort Kiel (2010-2017).

It is noticeable that most of these film characters are not only female, but also show other discrimination features - that is, they are also marked as person of color , trans , lesbian or Asperger's autistic and represent an alternative to the white and male-dominated hacker scene . The story of the development of the Haecksen (hackers in the Chaos Computer Club ) begins with the reference to the fact that female hackers “ are perceived as exceptional within the purely white male phenomenon of the hacking culture .” Against this background, the typology of the female nerd is more pronounced Regards traits of an antihero . The character of Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is characterized, for example as a "nerd, hacker, anti-heroine, child woman in punk rock outfit and Asperger's autistic with a photographic memory." Larsson himself wrote about them in an email to his Swedish publisher:

“My starting point was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would you call her a sociopath because she sees society differently and she has no social skills? She became Lisbeth Salander, who has many masculine traits. "

See also


  • David Anderegg: Nerds. Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them . Penguin 2007, ISBN 978-1-58542-590-7 .
  • David Brooks: Why Geek Is Newly Chic . In: The New York Times (in: SZ, June 2, 2008, p. 2).
  • Max Goldt : A good and a bad new word for men. In: Mind boggling - Evening Post , Zurich 1998, pp. 84–90.
  • Andreas Osterroth: The Influence of the Synchronized Versions of Mass Media Products on Language Change Using the Example of the Lexem »Nerd« , in: Sprachreport Heft 3, 2015, Pages 1–8. In italics: Nerd in the title.

Web links

Wiktionary: Nerd  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

supporting documents

  1. Nerd in English-German, online query on February 4, 2017.
  2. Why nerds are suddenly cool , an interview with nerd researcher Mathias Mertens,, November 22, 2012.
  3. Stefanie Müller: Keyword in the check: The "nerd" is cool. In: German Education. July 19, 2017, accessed August 3, 2019 .
  4. Nerd - the unknown being. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. May 11, 2010, accessed August 3, 2019 .
  5. a b c d The New Nerds - Celebrated Specialists , Spiegel Online, youth magazine "Yaez", February 24, 2011.
  6. a b Nerd, der ,, accessed on October 17, 2015.
  7. Nerd - Term Explanation and Definition , seo-lexikon, accessed on February 4, 2017.
  8. ^ The abnormality of the nerd , DGS - German Society for Sociology, May 4, 2013, author: Jasmin Siri.
  9. a b c d How US series are changing the German language , Matthias Heine in Welt Online from October 16, 2015.
  10. Hacker FAQ for Managers .
  11. Bill Gates - From nerd to benefactor of superlatives ,, October 28, 2015.
  12. on reputation, cf. en: Online Etymology Dictionary .
  13. nerd in, accessed on October 20, 2015.
  14. IEEE Spectrum 4/1995, page 16.
  15. nerd in Merriam Webster , accessed October 19, 2015
  16. Christoph Gröner: Woody Allen - Wear them again, Woody. Spiegel-Online, May 2, 2008, accessed July 1, 2010 .
  17. Hans-Jürgen Jakobs: Style criticism: Marc Bator - The colossal peep box., June 23, 2010, accessed on July 1, 2010 .
  18. ↑ The fashion trend of nerd glasses. GQ, April 25, 2008, accessed July 1, 2010 .
  19. Bradley Gibson: Traceroute. In: Film Threat. February 28, 2017, Retrieved February 19, 2019 (American English).
  20. Thomas Kaestle: Johannes Grenzfurthner on Traceroute: On the way with the Leitnerd. In: zebra butter. January 13, 2016, accessed on February 19, 2019 (German).
  21. Lisa Hänel: Few women in IT: Bring on the female nerds! Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 16, 2017, accessed on August 3, 2019 .
  22. Katja Rothe: Autism - Happiness Pathologization 2.0 . In: Stephanie Kleiner, Robert Suter (ed.): Stress and discomfort, happiness and success pathologies in the second half of the 20th century . Neofelis, Berlin 2017, p. 127-146 .
  23. Katja Rothe: Autism - Happiness Pathologization 2.0. In: Academia. Retrieved August 3, 2019 .