Are You a Geek or a Nerd? The Difference Really Is in the Data

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

The words "nerd" and "geek" are often used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. They actually 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.

  • Or, as Slackpropagation puts it, "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." In order to clarify those differences, he made this map. You can click here for a larger image of it. 

    Using that distinction, he 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), he got a pretty good predictor of the semantic word similarities between "geek" and "nerd." There were more than he expected, as you can see from the map. 

    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 comes from the same 2012 time period - and draws the same conclusions: 

    So now that you have all that, where do you stand? 

    The contentious history of the Anarchist Cookbook

    Numerous critics have called for the ban of the infamous instruction manual for violent civil disobedience.

    Scott Olson/Getty Images
    Culture & Religion
    • The Anarchist Cookbook provides instructions for making bombs, drugs, and operating firearms; naturally, this makes it rather controversial.
    • Concerned citizens, anarchists themselves, and many others have called for the ban of the book, but most liberal democracies have refused to do so.
    • Whether you think dangerous literature should be banned or whether banning books is an inherently anti-democratic position, knowing and understanding why the Anarchist Cookbook draws so much criticism can be valuable.
    Keep reading Show less

    The world's watersheds, mapped in gorgeous detail

    Hungarian cartographer travels the world while mapping its treasures.

    Strange Maps
    • Simple idea, stunning result: the world's watersheds in glorious colors.
    • The maps are the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs.
    • His job: to travel and map the world, one good cause at a time.
    Keep reading Show less

    Cahokia: North America's massive, ancient city

    It was a sprawling civilization.

    Public Domain
    Culture & Religion
    • Near modern-day St. Louis, Missouri, you can find towering mounds of earth that were once the product of a vast North American culture.
    • Cahokia was the largest city built by this Native American civilization.
    • Because the ancient people who built Cahokia didn't have a writing system, little is known of their culture. Archaeological evidence, however, hints at a fascinating society.
    Keep reading Show less