Nerd vs. Geek vs. Dork


The following arises from my concept of “Dork Psychology”. This is a theory I hold that attempts to define psychological and behavioral similarities between individuals of specific hobbies, pursuits, and groupings. Certainly, as with all generalizations, we cannot broadly apply these concepts to every individual; there are many variations and not everyone given a subjective label may fit. After all, one person’s “dork” is another person’s “genius”. However, as with other personality theories (Type A/B theory, Myers-Briggs theory, etc.) there are certain similarities between groups that cannot be denied. Just take a look at your local convention, Renaissance Festival, or comic store some time and say you don’t get a certain vibe. That being said, I think it’s important to understand my perception of the words Nerd, Geek, and Dork.

Webster defines “Dork” as synonymous with “Nerd”; both terms are defined as “an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits”. Further investigation of other definitions revealed a common trait in a lack of social skills, which can include behavior as well as appearance. In psychological terms, this social ineptitude would be understand as a lack in social intelligence. Thus, as defined by the theory of Dork Psychology, the personality type we are looking for is an individual who lacks social intelligence and follows intellectual or academic pursuits. Even simpler? People who are way too much into some sort of fantasy or technology and annoy the hell out of the rest of us.

The term “Dork” was used primarily because the connotations seemed stronger than “Nerd”, particularly to this author. Why do I not use the term “Geek” when it has been used interchangeably? Quite simply, “Geek” is defined differently and is not necessarily the same. Webster has three definitions for this term, but we will ignore two of them (circus performer and a tech enthusiast). The final definition is noted as “a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked”, which is not quite the same as the definitions for Dork or Nerd. There is no mention of being obsessed with certain pursuits nor talk of social ineptitude; the reasons for being disliked seem to be purely because the individual is intellectual. Thus, in this author’s terms, a “Geek” is just a smart person who’s into smart things and faces opposition or labeling because of it.

Understand that the pursuits may be similar between Dorks and Geeks. The difference is that you can be a Geek into many things and still be socially capable, as you will only face opposition when your intellectual nature or pursuits are brought up. Dorks face opposition because they lack social intelligence and are completely devoted to their pursuits (an aspect that contributes to social ineptitude). I.e., just because you know computers, play D&D, or dress up in medieval garb, does not mean you’re a Dork. It’s when your entire life revolves around computers, D&D, and medieval dress-up combined with a lack of social graces that you fit the definition for a Dork.