What is a nerd and what is a geek? Often I have observed the use of these terms interchangeably and sometimes I have seen one term being used to cover elements that conform to both terms. I wouldn’t say it is wrong; I support colloquial definitions (not very ethically, but yet quite clearly) in English and other languages partly due to my own ineptness in living up to the standards of Victorian English. But the thoughtless misuse of the terms creates quite a degree of confusion and misinterpretation in many circles.
Both terms are American (anti-British if I may) and have specific characteristics and differ in many senses and many of them are not just subtle. Doubtless, there are similarities – both are characterized by a certain degree of academic drive, social ineptness and a certain lack of focus on appearance. But both terms have evolved over time with continuous tampering and refining to their present positions where a clear distinction may be made.
The first point of difference is the origin – the word geek actually has an English (meaning fool) source though the meaning has been corrupted and evolved with time and use. The term nerd has no English origin (though it may be a derivative of certain known words but that is not clear). This may not be a very consequential difference and so it will not demand attention beyond this.
A more embodied difference is the appearance. Though both may be thought to lack focus on appearance, often once can see a nerd being very conventionally unsightly. The geeks of the current timeline are not so easily identifiable. They may have a pretty smile and may still retain the geek gene. A nerd would typically have untended oily hair, glasses that were a trend when glasses were invented, pants that were a in vogue more recently in the 1920s, a shirt that would be slightly too big or slightly too small, a very noticeable lack of fat and a certain dental aberration. A geek can manage to escape that to a fair extent but may not to the point where the pay attention to how they look and match their pants to their shirts. Often they wear only t-shirts (primarily because they are easier to live with and don’t have buttons that require painful attention but it could also be that geeks have a liking for messages on their shirts and very few of such condition lack the t- element). Nevertheless, a geek is not so likely to win a date by his/her allure quotient as the focus lies in a different direction.
A geek is characterized primarily by a passionate drive for certain things like academics (though not at all limited to), technology, gadgetry, music, movies and such. In fact, such a tendency is the very definitive factor of a geek. A geek may conform to all or some of these conventions. So a non-academic person may still be a geek if he is crazy about electronics and his favorite outings are to best buy and circuit city. Such drives are often prioritized over social needs and hence there is a certain lack of real friends (though geeks may be very socially active in the virtual world) and social participation. A geek may be really cool in his/her own perspective and in the perspectives of his peers making him a success in some circles but not in general ones. Their train of thought also runs along the same lines and that limits the extent to with others may relate to them or vice versa.
A nerd on the other hand is driven towards only academics and its allies. The books read are science-fiction. The social circles are math and physics club. Nerds may not have the choice of rejecting social calls; they are often excluded before that. They have a resultant social hunger that drives them to do some very silly things and nerds are often found approaching the other sex in quite a sloppy manner. Nerds may not always be the best people to talk everything with, though they may be very good for academic discussions. A nerd friend is not a conventional social asset unless you are a nerd too (though it may be observed that nerds often watch each others’ backs and make good friends within their own kin so it is not all hope lost to be one). Nerds are generally thought to end up very successful due to their academic motivation and may often be found dating supermodels after they make their first few millions, though a geeky habit may not always be a very productive or vocationally viable one.
Both terms have evolved from extreme to extreme through time. In the past, the n-word carried a milder tag while the g-word was often used for offense. In their current avatars however, being a nerd may conventionally be less desirable than being a geek.
Being a geek has evolved to such a positive state that often geeks proclaim their condition out loud and strong. There is a certain ego and arrogance that goes with the tag and they chose to retain all of that. It feels good to be someone who’s rejected society for technology. It feels good to be a competent geek in geek circles; you are respected by that circle for it. It feels good to hit out on the world for being unable to see what you see, from your weblog.
Of course nerds also follow suit for similar reasons. You can be a reject through your childhood and college life but once you have salvaged your academic potential for professional success, you can hire many conventionally popular individuals to do your bidding at will. Definitely that fosters a dormant ego that does not wish to stay quiet about it.
I would think that such appeal (or the lack of it) can be bred or avoided by personal choice. One definitely can be what one chooses to be if one does carry a true motivation and genuineness for it. Some things are skin deep and others can be purchased for a small fee. It is the mindset that makes the individual that the social pundits pass judgment on.