Etymology of “Nerd”

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Nerds rule the world

Nerds rule the world

“Nerd” is a fairly young word, dating back to the early 1950’s where it first appeared in the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran The Zoo. The narrator of the story, Gerald McGrew, wishes that he could collect “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too” for his imaginary zoo. Since Dr. Seuss most likely made the word up, the first recorded instance of “nerd” as a derogatory slang word was in 1951 in Newsweek when it reported on the word being a reference to “drips” or “squares.” By the 1960’s the word had spread across America and even into Scotland. During its journey, “nerd” somehow took on characteristics of bookishness and social ineptitude.

An alternative spelling of the word, “nurd,” began to appear in mid-60’s. Oral tradition at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hold that this originated from spelling the word “drunk” backwards. A “knurd” was someone who chose to study rather than party.

Other origins stories suggest that the word is derived from Mortimer Snerd, the ventriloquist dummy of Edgar Bergen, or the acronym of the Northern Electric Research and Development (NERD) labs.

The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests that “nerd” is from the 1940’s slang word “nert” which means “stupid or crazy person.”

It is, of course, very telling about the current state of humanity that in our present vernacular a “nerd” is someone who lacks social skills but is very intelligent. The implication is that it is better to be popular than to be smart. However, nerds own Microsoft, own Macintosh, invented the Theory of Relativity, invented the car, invented the light bulb, invented the airplane, invented the computer, invented the electric guitar, etc.


Shaun was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He attended San Pasqual High School, graduated in 2000 and received his B.A. from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in literature and creative writing. He speaks fluent English, a little Spanish, some Italian and even less Swedish. He golfs almost every weekend. He shoots in the mid 80's on a good day, mid 90's on a bad day. He enjoys good bourbon, black coffee and cloudy days. His favorite movie is the Big Lebowski.

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