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Is the word “geek” offensive?

Yesterday morning I had an interesting tweet conversation with @ianskenny about the word “geek” after I had mentioned @mcrgirlgeeks in a previous tweet. His opinion is as follows:

I find the word ‘geek’ particularly unhelpful…   because I believe it’s an ‘excluding’ word that doesn’t attract modern young girls, or boys. It’s used pejoratively…   It’s not about how existing ‘geeks’ feel about it, it’s about how it’s perceived in the wider world, particularly youth.

I respectfully disagree with this opinion, for the following reasons:

1. What’s the alternative

I looked on dictionary.com and found this definition of the word ‘geek’:

1. a computer expert or enthusiast
2. a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual

So…what exactly is wrong with being an expert on computers, an intellectual, or choosing not to follow convention? Some people choose to label others with negative connotations because they are scared that they are different. It’s similar to the way I hear the word “gay” thrown around with negative connotations e.g. I often hear people say “that’s gay” meaning “that’s annoying/bad”. So should we change the word “gay” to something else just because some people use it in a negative way? I don’t see why, and I don’t see why geeks should either. Wikipedia’s article on “Geek” says:

Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also often used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride

When I was at school the word was “boff” (short for boffin).  If we were to stop using the word geek, someone would just add negative connotations to whatever the alternative is. You can’t stop this, so you might as well embrace it.

2. Geek is a culture

Watch any American high school movie and you will see the stereotypical school groups – the cheerleaders, the jocks, the stoners, the emos, I’m sure you get the idea. I just did it! I just used a word (jock) with negative connotations to describe someone who is good at sport, yet I don’t see hordes of people coming out to defend the sporty lads. Is this because they shrug off the ‘insult’ because they are confident that their interest in sport alone is enough to weather anything they might be called because of it? Maybe we should be teaching our children to say “thank you” when they are called a geek, rather than to be upset by it.

I was interested to read this article on geek culture the other day which talks of the new “geek chic” which seems to be taking over. My boss has “geek glasses” and so do half of the clothing models on Asos. I think it is good for students who are interested in computers, science and intellectual pursuits to have a culture where they feel like they belong. As the article says “many people are drawn to the geek identity precisely because they enjoy inhabiting a niche “outsider” role. It’s a way of eschewing the mainstream” – for some this may be more by accident than design, but why deny them the chance of identifying with others by outlawing the term ‘geek’?

3. Objections to geeks are not actually about geeks

I often read the tweets of Belinda Parmar and @ladygeektv containing snippets of things people have said in their book out soon (I’m in it…unless they cut my bit :S). Most of the objections from kids seem to be about things such as (and I’m paraphrasing) “geeks don’t want to go outside” or “geeks have wild crazy hair” or “geeks don’t wash”. Surely these characteristics are actually nothing to do with what the geek identity is all about – computers, not being mainstream and being intellectual. You are allowed to like computers and still wash. Hell, I straighten my hair and read Cosmopolitan, does that mean I have to revoke my membership of geekdom? I’m pretty sure most people would object to anyone who didn’t wash, whether they were interested in computers or not, so why lump it in as a characteristic of being a geek?

I think we (the older geeks) need to show the younger generation that it’s cool to be clever. It’s OK to have an interest in Computing – and not because we look or behave a certain way or refer to ourselves as a particular word, but because our enthusiasm is so infectious you can’t help but want to become involved.

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One thought on “Is the word “geek” offensive?

  1. i think geek is a good word. i am proud to be a geek. i think it is important you sell geek as a cool and have people in schools who people see as geeky but cool. dare i say it but big bang theory has done a lot for that cause as( the first series at least) was intelligent and funny.

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