This Nerdy Life

On this week’s This American Life (“The Spokesman”), Ira Glass denounces the rampant proliferation of the term ‘nerd’:

Adults don’t understand anymore what it means to be a nerd. Have you noticed this? ‘Nerd’ somehow has become a badge of honor. You meet all kinds of people who say proudly that they were nerds in high school. It’s like anybody who had anything that made them feel different now says that they were a nerd. And that population, the population that thinks that it was different, that’s, like, everybody who went to high school. You know? People who were chubby, people who were in band, people who liked comic books, people who just didn’t drink. I’ve met people who are actually popular, who actually had a social circle and boyfriends or girlfriends, who now claim they were nerds. That is just wrong. I believe that we have forgotten the sweaty, unsexy, cringe-inducing face of hardcore nerddom.

That’s a new take to me. I’ve talked to a lot of adults describing themselves as nerds now who acknowledge that they weren’t nerds as teens, and I’ve talked to some who acknowledge they were nerds as teens. I’ve never heard anyone say “I was a nerd in high school” who didn’t have a fairly plausible explanation for it—and I’m not sure why chubby kids, band geeks, and comics fans shouldn’t count, seeing as how plenty of these got picked on pretty badly and actually belonged to the “Nerd Crowd” in high school. Also, I think it’s funny that an NPR personality and known comic book reader would have a hard time understanding that being a popular adult with a social network is not mutually exclusive with being (or having been) considered something of an outcast in other contexts.

All of that said, the episode isn’t entirely about nerds, but those interested in one nerd’s personal history may find the whole prologue worth a listen. (Thanks to Lee S. for the link!)