Though people talk a lot about “geek pride” these days, the popularization of the word “geek” is dubious AF. And now, geek hero and author of Ready Player One — Ernest Cline — has sly suggested we might want to use a different word.
Speaking at SXSW on Monday, Cline said “Some call them geeks and nerds. I like to call them enthusiasts.” And it’s a bit of a battle cry statement, though not one that should be particularly surprising coming from Cline. In Ready Player One, the virtual avatar for the elusive James Halliday is named “Anorak,” a word which can be defined as “a studious or obsessive person with unfashionable and largely solitary interests.”
Meanwhile, in 1916, a “geek” came into popular use to describe circus performers who were relegated only to sideshows, and frequently bit the heads off of chickens and were often paid only in alcohol. Really.
But, does it really matter if we group all people who are into video games, comic books, science fiction, fantasy or cosplay under the umbrella term of geeks? Maybe. In the Seventies, many Star Trek fans objected to the pejorative word “Trekkies” and opted instead of “Trekkers,” though these days, that largely feels like a distinction without a difference.
However, when it comes to nerds, geeks, or anoraks, the socially inept or solitary aspect of “geekdom” is largely a thing of the past. In other words, the mainstreaming of these interests suggests that there’s now nothing pejorative about the word “geek,” at all. I.E. a geek is no longer a version of a freak, and even if it were, people in 2018 are proud of their “freak flags.”
Still. Cline might be onto something. When calling almost anything “geeky” has become so commonplace, does the word really have any real meaning? And if it (or “nerd”) still carries even a whiff of the pejorative connations of the past, is there a compelling reason for self-respecting geeks — or enthusiasts — to keep using it?
Ready Player One, based off of Ernest Cline’s popular novel, is out in wide release in theaters on March 29, 2018.