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Evolution of the GEEK – How we became Hip

06 · 08 · 09

by @lauraklotz

As recently as a century ago, the term geek referred to sideshow circus performers whose job it was to entertain the crowd by biting the heads off of live chickens or bats.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The etymology of the word dates back to the old English or Low German word geck, meaning ‘freak.’  According to the relevant article at Wikipedia, the definition of geek has evolved over time to the point where it no longer has a definitive meaning.  It frequently gets classed with words that have similar definitions, such as nerd or dork, and they have all been known to be used in a derogatory fashion.

However, over the last several years, the geeks of the world have been revealing themselves in great numbers, taking back the word for themselves and applying it in a positive light.  Today, a geek is regarded as nothing more than a rabid enthusiast, someone who devotes time and energy to the pursuit of one or more subjects with intense interest.  There are video game geeks, movie geeks, music geeks, board game geeks, technology geeks, literature geeks.  Rarely is a modern geek ashamed of the title; most embrace the word with pride.

Happily for geeks of all shapes, sizes, and genders, the public is gradually starting to accept our way of life as legitimate.  Geeks are receiving positive portrayals in television, film, and other media.  To provide some examples, The Big Bang Theory is a well-received series about a group of geeky young scientists and their “normal” neighbor; much of the show’s humor revolves around anything from video games to science fiction movies to actual scientific equations.  Another show, Freaks and Geeks, was devoted to the study of different topics dear to the hearts of geeks everywhere.  The stars of some long-running and widely popular video game series are often given wonderfully geeky companions — Solid Snake, the hero of the ‘Metal Gear Solid’ games, would be lost without his best friend Hal Emmerich, a self-proclaimed otaku whose fanboy loves include Japanese animation and artwork; Link, protagonist of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series, had a recent ally in Shad, a bespectacled young man with questionable fashion sense and a near-exhausting passion for esoteric history.  Geek Monthly is a recurring publication devoted to the geek lifestyle, while Nerdapalooza is a yearly gathering of geeks of all types where they can converse, convene, and otherwise hobnob with their brethren.

And we female geeks, as this very website suggests, have been hiding in the shadows long enough.  Geekdom is no longer the exclusively male playing field that tradition would have anyone believe.  Admittedly, popular media still tends to put its focus on the male of the species; the show Beauty and the Geek, for instance, pairs attractive women with geeky men for the exchange of nerdiness and fashion tips, but there is no opportunity for geeky women to share a similar exchange with good-looking men.  When girls are shown to be geeks of some sort, they are rarely unattractive, possibly in an attempt to counteract the dual stereotypes that geeks are both male and of unfortunate appearance.  The belief still persists in some areas that a geek will pursue his (or her) interests to such an extent that the geeky passion supercedes all other facets of the geek’s life, including hygiene, health, and so-called normal social interaction.  It is also noted by Wikipedia that while the geek-related term ‘fanboy’ is frequently employed to describe a male enthusiast with extensive knowledge about their chosen subject, ‘fangirl’ is most often applied in a derogatory fashion, to describe a female fan who has developed an unhealthy obsession with her interests.

So while we have come a long way, we still have a way to go.

Nevertheless, we are making viable strides.  Female geeks in popular culture who are shown in a positive light include:

~ Abby Sciuto, the perky goth lab rat from the popular crime drama NCIS

~ The Geek Squad, the “elite” group of tech support workers for the Best Buy chain of stores, are shown in commercials as being an equal mix of men and women

~ Lilah, in the gaming webcomic Ctrl-Alt-Del, is shown to be at least as much of a geek as the male characters, and even gave up her regular job in order to become a professional video game competitor

~ Mei Ling, who works with the aforementioned Solid Snake in the ‘Metal Gear Solid’ games, is a technogeek who invented the “codec” means of communication between the characters; Solid Snake’s predecessor, Naked Snake, worked with Para-Medic, a female movie geek who entertained him with film trivia

~ Tina Fey, who both plays a geek on television (Liz Lemon on 30 Rock) and is one in real life, having appeared in Geek Monthly to talk about her long-standing obsession with all things Star Wars

~ And of course, our own Kristin, the founder of the Geek Girls Network, and all the fabulously geeky women who contribute

Just remember… “The geek shall inherit the earth.”

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7 comments

  1. I think that Samantha Carter from the Stargate universe would also count as a female geek shown in a positive light. She’s an astrophysicist, after all!


    • My husband (a big SG-1 fan) is very dismayed that I didn’t think to include her. She definitely counts, though! Thanks for reading!


  2. I loved this article – I’ve been girl-crushing on Abby from NCIS since I started watching the seasons. I love it when she and McGee start talking geek – they don’t dumb it down much at all. Hearing about port scans and firewalls on network tv – priceless.


  3. Not sure if there are any Torchwood fans here, but Toshiko on that show is certifiably a geek.

    And here, here! Great article.


  4. and geek girls every where cheer and cringe as society attempts to accept us on our terms. one day!


  5. I’ll also toss out Felicia Day to add to the list (is a geek AND plays one on TV … or on YouTube and the Xbox Live Video Marketplace, at least).

    Some other reading you might find interesting: Lori Kendall’s (1999) article “Nerd Nation” in the International Journal of Cultural Studies which discusses “Nerd Grrl!” websites; the Tufts Nerd Girls group; and She’s Such a Geek!, a book of essays collected by the editors of SF blog io9.


  6. Lilah, in the gaming webcomic Ctrl-Alt-Del, is shown to be at least as much of a geek as the male characters, and even gave up her regular job in order to become a professional video game competitor.

    i am curious about this webcomic.. could u give me a help to find it ? sorry for my poor english. thx



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