Martha Thomases: What – Me Nerdy?

English is a living language, which means that the words evolve through usage. It’s the kind of thing that drives grammar nerds crazy, such as when a person uses the word “literally” to mean “figuratively,” e.g. “I literally could not be any hungrier,” when you’ve only missed one meal.

What drives this grammar nerd crazy is the vulgarization of the word, “nerd.”

I don’t mean that ner” is a vulgar word. Rather, I mean it no longer means what it used to be. In my day (by which I mean, all that is real and true forevermore), a nerd was someone who was socially awkward, maybe a little OCD, and with obsessive interests in matters seen as trivial by more well-adjusted members of society. There were comic book nerds and science fiction nerds, but also AV nerds and theater nerds and band nerds.

“Nerd” was the word the cool kids used to put down their social inferiors. Therefore, by definition, a “cool nerd” is an oxymoron.

Because of this, I remain amazed every day by the popularity of so-called “nerd culture,” such as the blockbuster movies based on science fiction and fantasy books and comics. I’m not used to a world where everyone knows who Tony Stark is.

And now, perhaps as a sign of the Apocalypse, we have people calling out nerds as bullies who exploit their position at the top of the social ladder.

I’m not going to refute the politics of this piece (which is done fairly well here, although, as a nerd myself, I have some disagreements). I’ve already been kicked off this site once for talking about politics too much.

The author, Charles Cooke, confuses many things, including what kind of people are actually nerds. Al Gore… really? Al Gore is a lot of things, but he is not socially awkward. Neither is Neil Degrasse Tyson. Both men can hold their own in an interview, without notes, without a teleprompter. Cooke also confuses knowledge for opinion – although, as Stephen Colbert has taught us, “reality has a liberal bias.”

In fact, nerds are not all progressives. They are no more likely to base their political opinions on facts alone (as opposed to emotion) than anybody else. I remember one of my first arguments at the Marvel office in the 1980s, when several people said they would vote for Reagan instead of Mondale. I would describe the candidates stands on the issues, and that didn’t matter. They wouldn’t vote for a “wimp.”

I also am amused to see comments on message boards about Marvel and DC (and, to a lesser extent, Dark Horse) “forcing” writers to take political positions in stories, such as introducing an Hispanic Spider-Man. Marvel and DC have enough trouble getting the books written, drawn and printed on time. They want to get the talent that is most reliable and most sought after by fans. Politics is way, way down on the list.

I like to see science and math and history and economics valued in our culture. I enjoy having the opportunities to research the things that interest me, which is easier when having interests is considered to be cool. I like seeing scientists and comic book fans as television heroes … although the depictions are not necessarily any more real than those of TV cops, lawyers or doctors.

We could have worse heroes than scientists. If it’s good enough for Bruce Banner and Barry Allen, it’s good enough for me.