Friday, June 20, 2008


Nerd: Slang 1. A foolish, inept, or unattractive person. 2. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.

Etymology: Perhaps after Nerd, a character in If I Ran the Zoo, by Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Word History: The word nerd, undefined but illustrated, first appeared in 1950 in Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo: “And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!” (The nerd is a small humanoid creature looking comically angry, like a thin, cross Chester A. Arthur.)

Nerd next appears, with a gloss, in the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail in a regular column entitled “ABC for SQUARES”: “Nerd—a square, any explanation needed?” Many of the terms defined in this “ABC” are unmistakable Americanisms, such as hep, ick, and jazzy, as is the gloss “square,” the current meaning of nerd.

The third appearance of nerd in print is back in the United States in 1970 in Current Slang: “Nurd [sic], someone with objectionable habits or traits…. An uninteresting person, a ‘dud.’”

Authorities disagree on whether the two nerds—Dr. Seuss's small creature and the teenage slang term in the Glasgow Sunday Mail—are the same word. Some experts claim there is no semantic connection and the identity of the words is fortuitous. Others maintain that Dr. Seuss is the true originator of nerd and that the word nerd (“comically unpleasant creature”) was picked up by the five- and six-year-olds of 1950 and passed on to their older siblings, who by 1957, as teenagers, had restricted and specified the meaning to the most comically obnoxious creature of their own class, a “square.”

Your English lesson, today, provided by Bartleby.


Hemanth Potluri said...

u may find this article little interesting to know the actual nerd word used around in frnds....heheh....may be i to am a nerd ..unique case

MYM said...

Funny how so many of this made up words are used in everyday language. I never heard this before tho...that's pretty cool!

I guess we could have ended up calling nerds, whosits or wumps or I looked up some of his other names, apparently he also used the word blogg! who knew! But it does sound like something Dr Seuss would say.

Anonymous Mom said...

My high school sweetheart gave me the nickname "Nerd" It sounds odd, but coming from him it was a term of endearment. Hadn't thought of that in YEARS! He was a sweet guy but last I heard he was in a Federal penitentiary for bank robbery. Oh well.

A New Yorker said...

I had no idea.

Jay said...

I wonder who the nerd was that first decided to research the word "nerd?" ;-)

Reflections Magazine editor said...

Wow. I did not know this. What a fascinating piece. Now I am wondering where the word "thingamajigs" originates, so I guess I am inspired to go out and find out. Thanks!

Jessica said...

Neat article! Thanks. :)

Cool! :D Yeah, it interesting to think about how words become common in a language, and before long they are just part of the vocabulary. Whosits for nerds...LOL.

Aw, oh no!

Hi Lauren,
Either did I. :)

:D hmm, sounds like interesting research if you ask me!

Thanks. I love this type of thing! :)