What's the difference between a nerd and a geek?

Nerds and geeks: related yet distinct

We know what you're thinking: only a real nerd would get hung up on there being a difference between nerds and geeks. And you know what? You're absolutely right.

At Slang.net, we're word nerds, obsessed with the topic of defining (and distinguishing between) the slang terms you use in your everyday life. If you're reading this article, there's a good chance you've been using the words "nerd" and "geek" interchangeably - and thus, incorrectly.

What is a nerd?

A nerd is someone who is extremely obsessed with and knowledgeable about a particular topic. Usually, these topics are quite complicated, technical, and niche. A math nerd, for example, could talk your ear off about why and how mathematicians created irrational numbers, while an art nerd could rattle off a detailed overview of Georgia O'Keeffe's biography and work.

Nerds and geeks both love diving deep into topics that reward a thorough understanding of a wealth of information. However, nerds are obsessed with IRL topics, such as the aforementioned math and art. In contrast, geeks are obsessed with more fantastic fare (which we'll cover below). The term nerd also connotes a level of introversion and awkwardness that, at this point, self-proclaimed geeks often don't share.

What is a geek?

Geeks are also people who are very into a specific topic, such that they know most everything about it (even the obscure stuff). However, while nerds focus on IRL subjects, geeks focus on stories, games, and other elements of pop (or not-so-pop) culture. For example, while a nerd is likely to be into math, a geek is likely to be into DnD.

Recently, due to phenomena like DnD's resurgence and the rise of the MCU, geek culture has become a significant part of mainstream culture. Thus, many more people are now geeks. This marked increase in the geek population has shifted people's perception of the stereotypical geek. The word no longer automatically brings to mind the same awkward, glasses-and-pocket-protector person as the word nerd. These days, it's cool to be a geek, and many geeks are actually cool. (Which is not to say that nerds can't be. It's just rarer.)

Why do the terms get confused?

People often get the terms nerd and geek confused because a) pop culture has taught them to use the words interchangeably and b) there is some overlap between the words' definitions and populations. Nerds and geeks are both characterized by their obsession with a specific, sometimes niche subject. And many times, people who are nerds about one topic are also geeks about another. For example, a math nerd might also be really into DnD, partly because they enjoy the game's mathematical and statistical elements. That nerd would also be a geek.

However, it's important to understand that not every nerd is a geek, and not every geek is a nerd. Just because your friend Alan can calculate and file your taxes in less than an hour, it doesn't mean he likes Batman. And just because your new GF is into Doctor Who, it doesn't mean she knows why real time travel is likely impossible. Nerds and geeks are separate, yet related, classes of know-it-alls. And now that you've finished reading this post, you've taken one step closer to being a real nerd yourself.