ICYMI: Nerd no longer an insult, thanks to Internet

Columnist Ellie Papadakis on how the Internet changes definitions.

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a nerd.

But what’s in a name, anyway? For my parents, calling someone a “nerd,” by definition, wasn’t a compliment. It was that know-it-all in class, raising his hand for every question, possibly wearing glasses, probably without many friends.

But now calling someone a “nerd” isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I think that the Internet has something to do with the change.

Now, calling someone a nerd seems to denote that he just really, really, likes something, or maybe that she’s really good at a hobby that she has. In other words, the definition of the word seems to have broadened and become nicer in the process.

Because there are so many corners of the web, people can easily find others who love the same things that they love. Let’s take “Doctor Who” as an example — a British TV show about a human-like alien that travels around space and time in a police box.

I mean, you can’t get much nerdier than that.

Sure it’s been around for 50 years, but when it was revived in 2005, it created a whole new generation of fans, people who proudly say they are “Whovians.” Don’t get me wrong, the premise of the show is geeky, but fans don’t care because they think it’s great. On Tumblr, at least, the TV show has one of the biggest fan bases, with bloggers posting reviews of episodes, bonding over which villains are the best (and worst) and fawning over GIFs of the actors.

YouTube celebrities have also changed the definition of what it means to be a nerd. With more educational channels popping up online, such as Emily Graslie’s “The Brain Scoop” and Michael Stevens’ “Vsauce,” these vloggers are showing that it’s OK to be passionate and share what you love with the world. Even if that passion sometimes translates into nerdiness.

John Green, the author of “The Fault in Our Stars” and his brother Hank’s channel “Vlogbrothers” is centered around the idea that being a nerd is not an insult. Their fanbase even goes so far as to call themselves “nerdfighters.” And together, this nerdy community has done awesome things like funding wells in third-world countries and donating money to charities.

The ever-eloquent John Green has a famous quote from one of his videos:

“Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”

That quote sums up the new definition of “nerd,” the one created by bonding with people across the vast tubes of the Internet.

So when someone tells me I’m a nerd, I don’t get insulted by it anymore because I know I am.

And that’s OK.

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