About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


What is a Nerd, Anyway?

This section is intended for the person who has a relationship with a nerd, but doesn't self-identify as a nerd. (If you're a nerd, you probably already know it.) 

Where do nerds come from? Are they born or made? Can you become a nerd if you're not one already?

Nerds are the product of both exterior and interior forces. The concept of nerd, as a definable term rather than a type of person, is a cultural construct. Nerds didn't wake up one day and say, “we're a group of people with similar characteristics, so let's give ourselves a name so other people can use it to identify, make fun of, and bully us.” The term came from society, particularly the United States in the late 50s and has evolved subtly since it was first used to label certain types of people, moving from an insult into a realm where it's more acceptable, but it still means mostly the same thing.

A nerd isn't just someone who is smart, although intellect is part of it. A nerd isn't just someone who is a social misfit, although social ineptitude is also an important factor. Not all nerds wear glasses, use an inhaler, hate sports, play video games, read amazing amounts of books, and have a poor fashion sense. Still, nerds by definition always display some of these characteristics, otherwise people wouldn't call them nerds.

So, can people simply adopt these characteristics in pursuit of nerdiness? There's a tendency in popular culture to self-identify, perhaps proudly, as a nerd. You might hear someone say, “I got an A+ in class, I'm such a nerd,” or, “I stayed up all night playing Battlefront, I'm such a nerd.” These people might be nerds, or they might not.

It has also become popular for “hip” people to adopt features that once belonged solely to the nerd domain, so it might be difficult to discern between a nerd and someone who is being fashionably cool. A tip: Faux nerds wear superhero t-shirts because the shirts show off their physique with irony, while real nerds wear superhero t-shirts because they identify with that superhero and other nerds recognize that the person wearing the shirt is part of their cultural group.

Hopefully you get the idea. I'm not trying to be harsh towards faux nerds, and I believe they aren't trying to insult real nerds with fashion trends, but there is a big difference in dressing a part and living the part. I'm also not judging anyone for co-opting the term nerd, in fact I welcome anyone to the nerd herd, but I believe nerdom, like a good nickname, isn't something you can bestow upon yourself, it's a condition thrust upon you by life and a title bestowed upon you by others.
"Physics Student":
Univ. of the Fraser Valley
When most people think of nerds, they imagine a decades-old character: a person obsessed with school or work, who has an outdated or undeveloped sense of style, doesn't show any interest in what other people think about them personally and may actively rebel against current concepts of what's cool, stylish, or even normal. You can find this archetype in popular culture from Jerry Lewis' Nutty Professor, to George McFly from Back to the Future, to Leonard Hoffstadter in The Big Bang Theory. These nerds tend to have a reasonably deep knowledge of a wealth of subjects, read anything they can get their hands on, can quote Star Wars and/or Star Trek to make a point in conversation, know the rules to their favorite edition of Dungeons and Dragons, enjoy Japanese animation, played an instrument in marching band, and can converse about anything (as long as it's not in a large group of strangers).

The above paragraph is a sweeping generalization, but that's the nature of an archetype (or stereotype if you want to view it from that angle). Pick any ten nerds at random and probably none of them will fit the above description exactly.

Real nerds have a variety of hobbies, personality traits, flaws, and strengths that make each nerd as individual as anyone else, but they all share common traits of very high intelligence, interest in intellectual improvement for its own sake, a lack of specific fashion awareness, and in some cases a tendency toward introversion or social ineptitude.   

Throughout this blog, you will find posts about nerd specializations. They're not meant to classify nerds into particular categories, but give you thumbnail sketches that help you identify a nerd's cultural preferences. This might help when planning things to do together, getting a gift, or starting a conversation, and it can help you understand why a person behaves in a way that seems odd to you. The nerd you know will probably fit into more than one category, but don't let that intimidate you, it just means your nerd has a lot of interests.

There are certain stereotypes associated with nerds, and I admit many of them have a basis in reality, but it's not fair to assume a person can't match a shirt and tie just because he's good at orbital mechanics, or a person has trouble holding conversations in groups just because she's lead programmer for a major operating system.

Rather than looking at a nerd and assuming intelligence causes these stereotypical behaviors, try inverting your thinking. What if certain conditions cause a person to become a nerd? Do myopia and asthma contribute more to social anxiety and a lack of enthusiasm for sports than elevated intellect? Do social anxieties push a person toward an overdeveloped appreciation of books and films? Do certain combinations of physical limitations and shyness lead a person toward escapist entertainment such as fantasy, sci-fi and gaming? I believe so.

I also believe that nerdiness is a self-propagating state of being. Perhaps childhood asthma forces a boy away from the soccer field and toward the library, where the relatively safe enjoyment of fantasy novels encourages him to read more books than his peers. Pretty soon he’s known as a bookworm, and his classmates tease him for it. Rather than face ridicule, he buries himself in books and neglects his social skills. While his peers practice social interaction, the boy develops his vocabulary and reading comprehension. This process continues, and by the time he and his classmates have reached their late teens, the boy has developed a significantly higher intellect, but the price he pays is an atrophied social and cultural literacy.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being intelligent, and people can certainly function in society without following sports or fashion trends, but nerds tend to carry a heavier burden than simply not knowing whether or not to wear a skinny tie, or who was this year's Heisman Trophy winner. If you really want to be a good friend (or more) to a nerd, keep this in mind when you're faced with puzzling behaviors. 

Anyone is welcome to enjoy this site, but the articles are geared toward people who have most of the stereotypical nerd attributes, and people who are involved with nerds of this caliber.