• nerd •
Pronunciation: nêrd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A person lacking social skills and boringly conventional. 2. A geek, dweeb, wonk; someone dedicated—if not obsessed—by a highly technical field, especially computer programming. (Someone who knows more about computers than you do.)
Notes: This is a playfully derogatory term that is applied to people we usually feel sorry for. They seem happy to curl up inside some highly technical specialty. Popular back in the 60s and 70s, this word has created a rich family of related words. It provides us with two adjectives: nerdy "like a nerd", and nerdish "somewhat like a nerd". These two adjectives have generated two nouns: nerdiness and nerdishness. We can't ask for more than that.
In Play: The primary characteristic of nerds is that they prefer studying over partying: "Les Hyde is such a nerd that his nose is always in a book all the time—even on weekends!" But the word has built up steam with the advent of the personal computer: "I give up with this computer! Do you know a computer nerd I can call?"
Word History: This Good Word was a fixture of US student slang in the 60s and 70s. It came from Nerd, a fictional animal in the children's story If I ran the Zoo (1950) by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). Nerd is depicted as a small, unkempt, humanoid creature with a large head and a funny expression of disapproval. Where Dr. Seuss got it is anybody's guess. I think it could have been influenced by Mortimer Snerd, the goofy dummy featured with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (father of Candice). Bergen was popular in the 40s and 50s, so Dr. Seuss was bound to have been familiar with him and his characters. (Now we have to thank word nerd Andrew Rowland for being reminded of this word when geek was the Good Word.)