The Times used the term “cool nerds” in an article, and seems at first to have been taken to task for it by psychology professor David Anderegg. Under the headline, “‘Nerd’ and ‘Geek’ Should Be Banned, Professor Says,” Anderegg is said to believe “that merely mentioning terms like nerd or geek serves to perpetuate the stereotype.”
Turns out Anderegg is the author of a book called Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, so he can’t be as serious as all that.
Or can he? We are also told that “science and computer science, Dr. Anderegg said, are courses that young people too often associate with nerds and geeks. As a result, he added, ‘they sabotage themselves in these fields, and the nation’s work force is suffering.'”
The professor’s conflicted approach — using the word himself, but insisting that less loving usage of it may be damaging to the self-esteem of nerds and geeks (or if you prefer, differently-socially-abled persons of high intelligence) — will be familiar to students of gay studies, where the “reclamation” of slurs is widely discussed. (Ditto in black studies.)
As we can think of no other reason for the Times article to exist, we fear it may be meant to open a similar discussion on behalf of math and science wizards. We just saw Time declare in its Man of the Year citation that “Ben Bernanke is a nerd,” albeit “most powerful nerd on the planet.” Was that playful, or an invitation to linguistic judgement? What shall it profit a man to gain the cover of Time and still be identified with pocket protectors and inappropriate shirt-retucking?
It’s been years since Homer Simpson had his reeducation on nerd abuse, and maybe it’s time for the rest of us to have ours. Please let’s not let it get that far. We who hunch at laptops have precious few approved slurs left at our disposal — “douchebag” is fast wearing out its welcome, and people get mad even at the time-honored “hick” and “hayseed.” If we are deprived of two of our few remaining shorthand opportunities to rank on people who make several times as much money as we do, we might be forced out of the internet journalism racket in despair.