Is "Geek" Still An Offensive Term Or Something To Take Pride In?

This is a guest post by Tom Demers. Tom writes about endpoint security for companies like Bit9.

A diagram of geek culture

Diagram of geek culture - click for larger version

The word “geek” is thought to have originated from sideshows and circus performers, and its earliest meaning was very derogatory. It usually was used in reference to someone who was offensive, foolish or worthless. However, this word has gone through a long evolution, and it now commonly refers to computer programmers and technology buffs.

So, is this term still offensive? Honestly, it’s a little hard to say. Many geeks openly refer to themselves with this term, but there are also many that use it as an insult. It all really comes down to the use of the word and personal feelings on the matter.

Good Usage
As stated above, the usage of the word “geek” can be either good or bad. Self-professed geeks often use it as a glorifying term, because it shows that said person is often very intelligent and tends to have an obsession with technology or is able to create unusual objects.

In this light, geek is not an offensive term. Many geeks, and friends of geeks, tend to use it as an endearing term or a way to easily describe the geek’s interests. When used in this manner it can be playful and fun to use. It also gives a sense of camaraderie for fellow geeks, as they know they will fit into this group rather well.

There are also many establishments that use the word “geek” as a good term. For example, Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” is seen as a technologically life-saving team of professionals that are great with hardware, software and anything else technical. The website “WiseGEEK” is a huge article directory that lists thousands of articles, and it is seen as a very good resource for people looking for information.

In these ways, geek is a good term that is being used more and more often within social circles both between geeks and for people who associate with them.

Bad Usage
There are those that use it inappropriately. This usage was huge during the 70s and 80s, though it has largely died down as geek awareness and glorification became larger. However, you can still hear it in schools, movies and other walks of life.

The bad usage of “geek” paints geeks as people that are obsessed with the intellectual pursuits. This isn’t bad, and usually is the truth. However, it makes geeks appear enfeebled when it comes to living outside of textbooks and technology, which is very far from the truth.

Between the nerd and geek wars, geeks are more often social and tend to have a good amount of friends. While there are of course some that can be considered shut-ins, these people exist in all niches. Being a geek does not mean you are locked in your house, tinkering away with technology in your mom’s basement. In this way, it makes geeks seem unable to live outside of their small world of circuit boards, books and films.

Geek Chic
Another point of contention is geek chic. This is a style movement that focuses on the stereotypical aspects of being a geek. This includes the thick-rimmed glasses, pocket protectors and shirts with in-jokes.

To some, this is a way to openly express their geek identity. For others, it is a stereotypical market that picks up only a few characteristics that geeks are known for having—but do not necessarily apply to the whole spectrum—but leave the identity of the geek entirely devoid of its true personality.

This is similar to the entire usage of the word, which can be good or bad. Overall, many people have been positive to the geek chic culture, but there are those that find it offensive.

So, is the term “geek” still offensive? Some people definitely still use it this way, but the bad usage has been dying down in the last few decades. People commonly use this term in a favorable sense when talking about technology buffs, and fellow geeks now use the term to glorify their intellectual pursuits.

Overall, the meaning of this term has completely changed. It went from one that had an absolutely bad connotation to one that is used in a good sense. So, when someone calls you a geek, don’t feel bad about it. It’s usually a compliment, and should be taken that way.

Friday Fun: How to speak geek

So, what is geek-speak!? This instructional video will explain it all for you :) You will need Flash and, yes, you will need sound.

There we go… feel free to practice your geek-speaking skills in the comments.

Get 15% off geeky gear during February

If you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for a while you’ll have picked up on several posts about t-shirts. I’m hooked on printed tees, and have several with definite geeky themes.

Last week I heard about 604Republic, a new (to me) addition to the geek-tee scene who have been trading since September 2010. Given that it’s a fairly new company, it’s understandable that there isn’t a huge collection of designs on there yet, but what is there is genius. My particular favourites are the duelling Tyrannosaurs and the t-shirt with the slogan, “Four Five out of five people are zombies”.

If you’re into gaming, Star Wars, dinosaurs, zombies, or more, 604Republic could very well have your next favourite t-shirt in stock. There’s even a nice remake of the World War 2 “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster.

There’s more though… For the month of February, if you use the promo code “GEEKSPEAK” at the checkout you will receive 15% off your order. How good is that?

Head on over to 604Republic, have a look around, and don’t forget to use the promo code to get a discount. 604Republic is based in Canada, and ships to most countries worldwide.

Music Recommendation: Jonathan Coulton

Post image by juco – used under creative commons license

If you’ve played the excellent Portal by Valve, you’ll have come across the song Still Alive. I think the attraction of the song was that it was so unexpected as a game ending, but it worked.

I was visiting friends in Yorkshire a few weeks ago and one of them mentioned that Jonathan Coulton, the composer of “Still Alive”, had also written a track for Left4Dead (zombies!). The jukeboxes in the game play a track called “Re: Your Brains”, where a zombie and his colleagues try to convince uninfected people to let them, well, eat their brains.

Jonathan has a great style that’s quirky (e.g. Ikea), geeky (Code Monkey) and just very, very catchy. If you’re after some music that will speak to the geek in you and maybe make you bob from side to side in an understated manner, I’d recommend you check out Jonathan Coulton.

There are a few options for hearing more:

Hope you enjoy what you hear :)

iTunes links in this post are affiliate links.

Evolution of the Geek

Happy Monday all – I wanted to start off the week with a fun infographic I’d seen on Mashable that displays the evolution of the geek. Rather than reproduce it here (partly because I’m not sure what the copyright situation is) head on over to Mashable for a look.

I love these maps of geek culture. I’ve posted about this sort of thing before when I asked, “What is a geek?” I think they show the breadth of geekiness, with sci-fi, film, book, car and science geeks all getting a look in. It also sort of gives me a bit of a boost to think that there are a heck of a lot more subjects I could cover on Geek-Speak!

Have a think about it and, if you like, tell us in the comments: what kind of geek are you?

What is a geek?

My friend John posted a great picture on his Tumblr account the other day: a map of geek culture.

A diagram of geek culture
Diagram of geek culture – click to larger version

So, what’s the subject matter we could cover on Geek-Speak? Looks like a pretty wide range of ideas to me! :)

Is there anything in particular you’d like to see covered though? Any subjects you want to take a closer look at, or any questions you want answered? Please let me know in the comments or via the contact form and I’ll do my best to accommodate!

Now also at Geek Dad…

I just wanted to give you a heads-up to another place you can find my writing – I’ve been pleased to be a part of’s Geek Dad blog for a short time now. The team of writers are great, although things are only just getting started so posts aren’t quite as regular as they will eventually be.

Geek Dad covers geekdom from the perspective of parents and their family, so much the same as here but with an extra slant on things. There’s been a US version of Geek Dad on for a while, but now there’s one for people on this side of the pond :)

Head on over to Geek Dad and see what’s happening – you’ll find my latest post on retro sweets (candy) there just now.

Hope you enjoy it!