The words "nerd" and "geek" are often used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. In practice, they don't:

  • geek - An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
  • nerd - A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.
  • Slackpropagation explored the differences between the two words and created this graph to map out the differences. You can click here for a larger image

    Slackpropagation points out that there are similarities between the two words. As they explain on their site, "Both are dedicated to their subjects, and sometimes socially awkward. The distinction is that geeks are fans of their subjects, and nerds are practitioners of them." Using that definition, they pored over 2.6 million Tweets using both the streaming and search APIs for over a one month period. After crunching the numbers to figure out each word's PMI (pointwise mutual information), they got a pretty good predictor of the semantic word similarities between "geek" and "nerd." 

    The results are the scatterplot map above. Orange words are geeky. Blue ones are nerdy. The words on the vertical axis become more geeky as you go up, and the words on the horizontal axis become more nerdy as you move right. Slackpropagation continues: "Words along the diagonal are similarly geeky and nerdy, including social (“#awkward”, “weirdo”), mainstream tech (“#computers”, “#microsoft”), and sci-fi/fantasy terms (“doctorwho,” “#thehobbit”)." Other observations from the data include:

    • Collections are geeky. All derivatives of the word “collect” (“collection,” “collectables”, etc.) are orange. As are “boxset” and “#original,” which imply a taste for completeness and authenticity.
    • Academic fields are nerdy: “math”, “#history,” “physics,” “biology,” “neuroscience,” “biochemistry,” etc. Other academic words (“thesis”, “#studymode”) and institutions (“harvard”, “oxford”) are also blue.
    • The science & technology words differ. General terms (“#computers,” “#bigdata”) are on the diagonal — similarly geeky and nerdy. As you splay up toward more geeky, though, you see products, startups, brands, and more cultish technologies (“#apple”, “#linux”). As you splay down toward more nerdy you see more methodologies (“calculus”).
    • Hobbies: compare the more geeky pastimes (“#toys,” “#manga”) with the more nerdy ones (“chess,” “sudoku”).
    • Brains: the word “intelligence” may be geeky, but “education,” “intellectual,” and “#smartypants” are nerdy.
    • Reading: “#books” are nerdy, but “ebooks” and “ibooks” are geeky.
    • Pop culture vs. high culture: “#shiny” and “#trendy” are super-geeky, but (curiously) “cellist” is the nerdiest

    All observations quoted from Slackpropagation.

    If the map isn't helpful to you, or you'd like another perspective, check out this infographic from Diego Martinez-Moncada at Daily Infographic. The dataset is different from Slackpropagation's, but it draws the same conclusions: 

    Geek vs Nerd infographic

    With all that data, where do you stand?