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geek

[ geek ]
/ gik /
Slang.
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noun

a digital-technology expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often used disparagingly by others).
a person who has excessive enthusiasm for and some expertise about a specialized subject or activity: a foreign-film geek.
a peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward.
a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

verb (used without object)

to be overexcited about a specialized subject or activity, or to talk about it with excessive enthusiasm (usually followed by out): I could geek out about sci-fi for hours.

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Origin of geek

First recorded in 1915–20; probably variant of geck (mainly Scots ) “fool,” from Dutch or Low German gek

historical usage of geek

Geek and nerd : are they marginalized rejects or cool pop culture specialists? It depends on the era in which these slang labels were applied. In the first half of the 20th century, geek was the word for a circus sideshow performer who bit the heads off small live animals. Geeks were meant to put on horrifying spectacles for the normal people in the audience. Through what linguists call “semantic drift” (gradual change in meaning), a slang use of geek emerged in the popular culture of the 1980s to designate a newly marginalized group: smart and tech-savvy—but socially awkward—young enthusiasts of emerging computer technologies. The term nerd in the second half of the 20th century similarly described an unpopular, overly intellectual young person who was interested in science or math. The stereotypical high school or college nerd was picked on by the stereotypical jock and never stood a chance with the pretty, popular girl. Nerds were not considered cool. But in the 21st century, both words evolved to become nearly synonymous, and labels no longer to be ashamed of. Twenty-first century geeks and nerds are smart people of all ages (and genders) who are well-informed and care passionately about something. Though often an expert in technology, science, or math, a nerd or geek can be a specialist or fan of almost any subculture imaginable: a French-cuisine geek or a Jane Austen nerd . Today these labels are not predominantly used to stigmatize. What changed? First, mainstream pop culture embraced science fiction toward the end of the 20th century. Sci-fi was no longer a private niche of films and comic books, known only to fans of the genre. Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey , Alien , and Star Wars became common cultural touchstones. Also, computer technology infiltrated almost every aspect of 21st-century life. The specialists in that technology, once belittled for their interests, became valued and pivotal members of society. Further, the internet has helped people to find like-minded peers who share otherwise specialized and possibly isolating interests, connecting and creating thriving communities. Geek and nerd, terms with a painful and exclusionary history, are not always appropriate labels to force on someone else. However, they are increasingly used by people to refer to themselves and others in reappropriated and validating ways. When used to mean specialist or enthusiast, geek and nerd need not be considered offensive labels at all.

OTHER WORDS FROM geek

geeky, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

ABOUT THIS WORD

What is a geek?

A geek is a person who is an expert or fan of technology and computers, as in He gave the assignment to the geeks in the IT department. 

Geek is also used more generally to refer to someone who is especially passionate or knowledgeable about something, as in Shawna is the biggest Star Trek geek I know, going to all the conventions. 

A geek is also someone who is judged to be too intelligent and socially awkward or just quirky or odd, especially in high school groups, as in At my high school, the geeks got along with the goths but hated the jocks. 

In the past, the word geek was used to refer specifically to a carnival performer who performed disgusting acts. Today, this usage is incredibly rare, and you can use geek as an insult or endearment, especially when describing yourself.

Geek can be used as a verb to mean to express intense enthusiasm about something or to discuss it passionately, as in My friends were all geeking out about the new Spider-Man movie. 

Example: My dad has always been a baseball geek, telling me all of the stats and who the upcoming stars will be.

Where does geek come from?

The first records of geek come from around 1915. It probably comes from a variant of the Scottish geck, meaning “fool,”  from the Low German gek. In the past, geek was used to refer to a performer who would make a fool of themselves for others’ entertainment. Nowadays, the word geek usually describes an intelligent person.

The word geek is very similar to the word nerd, which is often used interchangeably to describe (and be mean to) the same kinds of people. While geek and nerd can still be insults today, when you label yourself as a geek or nerd, it’s a positive description, possibly. You can learn more at “What Are The Differences Between ‘Nerds,’ ‘Geeks,’ And ‘Dorks’?

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to geek?

  • geeky (adjective)

What are some synonyms for geek?

What are some words that share a root or word element with geek

What are some words that often get used in discussing geek?

How is geek used in real life?

Geek is a common word that has a wide usage. Many people proudly identify themselves as geeks, especially if they are fans of or enthusiastic about something. Yet geek is still negatively used to refer to people who are deemed uncool by the speaker or are smart but socially awkward.

Try using geek!

True or False?

A comic book geek is a person who is passionate about comic books.

How to use geek in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for geek

geek
/ (ɡiːk) /

noun slang

a person who is preoccupied with or very knowledgeable about computing
a boring and unattractive social misfit
a degenerate

Derived forms of geek

geeky, adjective

Word Origin for geek

C19: probably variant of Scottish geck fool, from Middle Low German geck
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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