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"You're not a nerd, you're just — coolness-challenged."
A Nerd is someone who... actually, it is easier to describe a nerd as what they are not.
Not smooth, not handsome, and not someone you would instantly describe as 'attractive'. Not, above all else, popular
outside a very narrow grouping of fellow-nerds (and usually not at all stupid
). They are oftentimes a walking, talking fashion-disaster. One definition of a nerd is someone who not only didn't attend his high school prom, but would be puzzled or even offended at the suggestion that he would want to. Most nerds portrayed in the media actually fail this test
, but real-life nerd Joss Whedon
The term gets conflated with geek
fairly frequently, as it happens that a nerd can be fairly obsessive/informed about a particular topic. The nerdiest nerd is a nerd who isn't even a geek
One of the odd features of the nerd on TV is that they will be over-formally dressed (probably as a result of the Hollywood Dress Code
) usually, at least
a plaid polo shirt and slacks. In fact, in real life, both nerds and geeks
tend to dress more
casually than the average person, because they usually don't care as much about clothes or appearances. (The hyper-formality is likely due to another stigma - that nerds let their parents dress them.) There are some nerds whose clothes would fit the stereotype, though.
Many, if not most, nerds are so socially inept because they actively dislike company with Average Joes and not so much because they just don't know how to act. According to Average Joes.
A nerd is typically portrayed as: Pasty, weak, Geek Physiques
, probably with Nerd Glasses
or a Nerdy Inhaler
, bullied by the jocks
, Cannot Spit It Out
if a girl is anywhere within range, working on odd projects in their basements and garages. Geek girls (and some guys) will have super frizzy hair
, if it's not done up in Girlish Pigtails
(the girls, not the guys). May be obese instead of scrawny. These are the nerd stereotypes that were most prevalent in the 70s and 80s, the ones that feature in movies like Revenge of the Nerds
, the sort that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs looked like back in the day. ...Okay, Gates still looks kinda like that, but he's a billionaire now, wanna make something of it? You would think the nerds ruling the world nowadays would make this a Discredited Trope
, but there's enough Truth in Television
to Geek Physiques
to keep this one running.
Most people may have first heard this term from the Sitcom Happy Days
, where it was Fonzie's pejorative of choice, but etymological studies have traced it back to Dr. Seuss
' book If I Ran The Zoo
, though he spelled it "nurd". Note that, like with Geek
, the definition of a nerd is not set in stone and can vary greatly depending on context. For instance, Fonzie’s earliest uses of the term implied somebody who was average and middle class, in contrast to his own streetwise survival and fighting skills. Dr. Seuss’ nerd was a nonsensical (and grouchy-looking) animal in his zoo.
See also Geek
, Asian and Nerdy
, Black and Nerdy
, Hollywood Nerd
. Contrast Nerdcore
. Related to I Just Want to Have Friends
when the nerd wants to be more popular.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Konata Izumi of Lucky Star is a self-described hardcore geek, despite being inexplicably athletic.
- Umino Gurio ("Melvin" in the dub), Usagi ("Serena") and Naru ("Molly")'s classmate in Sailor Moon. Originally the girls are creeped out by him whenever he shows up, to only later find out he's a decent guy - he and Naru end up dating. And according to Word Of God, he's actually completely Bishōnen under his swirly glasses.
- Napoleon Dynamite is pure nerd. No geek-ness at all, no skills, knowledge or, quite possibly, any understanding that there might be such things as skill and knowledge.
- The movie series Revenge of the Nerds, which describe themselves as including the Nerd, the Geek and the Spazz as their heroes (not to mention the slob, in Booger's case).
- Back to the Future Part I: Marty's father, before Marty goes back to 1955 and while he's in 1955.
- Jerry Lewis played a Comic Books nerd in Artists and Models. An early example.
- The Gamers not only knows its subject very well, but also has many in-jokes that only D&D players will get, the first one more than the second one. Both have a cast that was probably cast from D&D players (though some in the second movie are doubtful). It is often referred to as "A D&D movie that mocks D&D players."
- Jen Page (aka female Luster) was at the time of filming an editor at Wizards of the Coast.
- Live Free Or Die Hard: "the Warlock", a notorious hacker, is played by Kevin Smith. Yes, that Kevin Smith. Then the Kid Sidekick is played by Justin Long with his "gonna get beat up in high school" looks. The villain has a team of pizza eating mini-Smith working for him but he himself, meant to be the uber-hacker, is a very sharply dressed Timothy Olyphant with a hot kung fu fighting assassin girlfriend. However the contrast with those two and everyone else just underlines Evil Is Sexy.
- The three main characters in Superbad all look like believable teenage outcasts. In fact even the popular cute girls in the movie are only normal-school pretty rather than drop dead gorgeous models.
- It's questionable if Michael Cera really averts this, as he is quite a cutie and wanted by every geeky- and many non-geeky- girl.
- Michael Cera's appeal is arguably more down to his onscreen persona as a sweet natured, geeky Deadpan Snarker than his actual looks which are average to gawky - he's not without his charms but he's no more conventionally attractive than (say) the young Tom Hanks, another fairly average looking guy whose appeal started when he opened his mouth.
- The two computer hackers David (Matthew Broderick) consults in WarGames..
- One of the nerds in the above mention was played by Eddie Deezen who built his entire career playing nerds starting in the late 70s in such films as Grease, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1941.
- Real Genius shows a wide variety of nerds. Most of the physics students are Type 1, including an Asian and Nerdy student, a Basement Dweller (sort of), and a Teen Genius. Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), however, is handsome, witty, and outgoing.
- Max Knight Ultra Spy has this in droves. The villain (Seth Green) is an uber hacker who, along with his girl posse and various followers, looks and acts like contenders for "the popular kids of the popular kids at high school", and the story takes place at one point at a party that seems to mix hip-hop, R'n'B and rave, people drink out of test tubes, and you have to prove your superior intelligence to get in. You meet one awkward, sweaty nerd (who gets shot down by the female lead) near the start, and the female lead's Mcguffin Girl sister is a borderline case (until the villain takes off her glasses and lets down her hair).
- The eponymous character of Adam, due to his Asperger Syndrome.
Live Action TV
- Family Matters' Steve Urkel and Saved By The Bell's Screech are the flagships for the male version of Type 1.
- The background "nerds" from Saved by the Bell make Screech look like a Type 2 by comparison. Not to mention his nerdy girlfriend Violet, played by Tori Spelling in Nerd Glasses and ugly hairstyle.
- Steve Urkel's nerdiness is played up even more; his dress style, high pitched voiced and total social awkwardness.
- All the Geeks in Beauty And The Geek, at least to start with. After the obligatory makeover episode some of them clean up quite nicely. (The show is more about nerds than geeks, but "geek" is phonetically closer to "beast" than "nerd.")
- All the geeks of Freaks and Geeks. (Freaks and Geeks featured nerds more than geeks, mostly because freaks and nerds don't rhyme.)
- The Big Bang Theory. Needless to say, they have a lot of fun playing with this trope. Just as you're expecting the lone female physicist to be a Type 2 (which might have been good enough, given the supermodel casting of the girl next door), the camera pans to a poofy-haired, flannel-wearing nerd, with a voice in a reasonable register, who's using high energy physics lab equipment to heat up her ramen.
- Averted with microbiologist Bernadette, who is a Type 2.
- Played straight with Amy Farrah Fowler.
- Basically the entire cast (save for Penny).
- Stuart Minkus on Boy Meets World.
- In the episode, Cory's Alternative Friends, Cory decides that he wants to change his hairstyle, but it takes a turn for the worse, leading him to join a group of social outcasts who eat lunch together and have no desire to be normal.
- Owen Pronsky from Less Than Perfect is a classic example, complete with Nerd Glasses, social ineptness and overall weirdness. Also, he sells office supplies for a living.
- Dollhouse - Dr. Claire Saunders. Yes, she's played by Amy Acker but she also has serious facial scars. However their visibility seems to vary from episode to episode.
- Even with the scars, some think she's still smoking hot.
- And she's a Doll anyway. All Dolls, male and female, are supposed to be attractive enough for "romantic engagements".
- Topher on the other hand personifies this trope, though even he isn't exactly unattractive.
- Also heavily lampshaded with Doctor Bennett Halverson, Summer Glau's character. She's so drop dead gorgeous (except for the gimp arm, and that's really not that bad) that Topher assumes she is a doll who "broke" and was imprinted with some important skills - but proves otherwise. Also slightly subverted in a later episode, when we see Bennett at school before a friend gave her a makeover. She's still far from what any sane person would call ugly, but combined with her personality her geekiness becomes believable.
- Alias's Marshall Flinkman.
- Malcolm from the Doctor Who special "Planet of the Dead." Very much a Doctor fanboy, too.
- iCarly has Freddie himself as a straight example. Especially in season 1 when the actor's voice hadn't changed and he was shorter than the actresses playing Carly and Sam (to the point of needing a Scully Box pair of shoes). In the episode 1 of season 2, when Freddie enters, Sam asks "What happened to your voice?" and Freddie replies "I dunno, puberty?" Season 4 he's become a full blown Hot Scientist as the actor is now nearly 18, spent time in the off-season break working out and is all muscled up.
- "Doc" Soto in Alcatraz who when he's not helping catch time traveling criminals runs a comics shop.
- Harold on The Red Green Show.
- Garrett and Fat Neil on Community, the former of whom also has a pronounced lisp.
- Mark Jackson (Gavin Crawford), the teen correspondent for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, looks and acts like the stereotypical Type 1 nerd.
- They Might Be Giants, kings of the nerd rock genre, wrote a song called "The Mesopotamians", which portrays Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh as a cross between The Monkees and Gorillaz. It's an allegory of the Beatles ("I thought you crashed your car"), and that no one cares about them anymore... save the geeks.
- The band 2 Skinnee J's first single was titled "Riot Nrrrd"; this title both represents a claim of affiliation with the Riot Grrrl movement and an attempt to "reclaim" the label "nerd."
- Turn on G 4 TV and you're more than likely to find a bumper or two of several Nerdcore rappers rapping about things that ordinary people would find nerdy; e.g. Console Wars, computer hacking, hell, even just video gaming in general. The bumps appear to be a movement to turn "nerd" into a term of endearment and/or empowerment. The performers include YTCracker, MC Lars, and MCFrontalot, who looks a lot like the image at the top of this page. Ironically, the majority of G4's programing has nothing to do with what they claim is their intended demographic.
- Are we not men? We are Devo!
- But Captain Spectacular has seen through Ziltoid's facade, and now sets out to expose Ziltoid for what he really is: a nerd.
- Myron of Fallout 2, though he is also far more evil than most other examples here, being the inventor of the drug Jet and having killed countless slaves in testing.
- Eric of Loserz. See here. He might still be a geek, though, and later manages to get a girlfriend and get laid. Wish fulfillment?.
- Mindy of Cinema Bums. Particularly on subjects related to movies.
- Dinosaur Comics: In this strip, T-Rex conflates nerds and geeks when he speculates that God's omniscience must make him the Ultimate Nerd.
- Questionable Content: Marigold is a pimply MMORPG-addicted nerd with dirty hair and a messy apartment. However, She Cleans Up Nicely, like the type 2 Hollywood Nerd girl always does.
- Could be Informed Attractiveness in this case. Her friends tell her she's Beautiful All Along and boys have hit on her, but her artwork hasn't changed, her clothing hasn't changed and her social skills around strange boys CERTAINLY haven't changed.
- The "cloner nerds" from Sluggy Freelance seem like a pretty extreme example. Then they release a plague that exponentially increases the intelligence of whoever it infects, while decreasing their attractiveness and social skills to the point where they become extremely nerdy zombie analogues.
- The devil tech fannamed "Devilbert". He's also a rare villainous example, albeit of the Punchclock Villain variety.
- When Terry of KateModern joins the Hymn of One, he becomes a cheerful, mild-mannered nerd, complete with a cardigan and, inexplicably, Nerd Glasses. In "Precious Blood" it is revealed that the nerd persona was all an act. One of the first things he does after being discovered is to get rid of the cardigan and the glasses - he can see just fine without them.
- "Bad Decision?", Chapter 2 of LG15: the resistance features "the sexy nineteen-year-old fact finder also known as... Research Nerd!" (actually Sarah with Nerd Glasses, a collared shirt and tie and her hair tied back).
- Spencer from lonelygirl15 is a scientist who likes to wave a lightsaber around and claims he can't exercise because he suffers from nociception. All together: "What Up, Blogosphere!"
- The Angry Video Game Nerd. And here, we speak about the character, not the actor James Rolfe, who actually got a life on his own. And even the Nerd character only has the look of nerds in the general, his popularity is immense. Just don't imitate his style in real life.
- The Nostalgia Critic has a troll nerd ("Douchy McNitpick") who constantly points out the errors in his reviews.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged has Piccolo refer to Son Gohan as a nerd, whenever he goes off on a rant.
- In Doppelganger nerds form an entire clique. Victor is one and so is Lisa to a lesser extent. However, Victor is so nerdy even the nerds don't want him.
- Pretty much every deviser or gadgeteer at Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. Even the attractive ones (like Bugs and Widget) tend to be obsessive about their inventions, weird in various ways, etc. Bugs has a fascination with the egg, even building inventions into egg shapes.
- The Simpsons:
- The show referenced the difference when Milhouse insists to Bart he's "Not a nerd. Nerds are smart." Which is actually roughly the reverse of the definitions being used here, although "smart" is an attribute commonly associated with nerds.
- There was an episode where Homer went to college and yelled "Neeerrrd!" at a passing student.
- In the Show Within a Show, School of Hard Knockers, "Nerd" was apparently a catch-all to describe anyone who wasn't a Jock. Basically, taking the Saved By The Bell viewpoint and then dumbing it down to Homer's level.
- Codename Kids Next Door: Nerd zombies, geeking up over a Yipper card. Of course, they weren't really zombies, just painfully obsessed.
- Beth from Total Drama Island. Smart but socially awkward, complete with Nerd Glasses, Braces of Orthodontic Overkill and a n not so imaginary boyfriend
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Putting Your Hoof Down", there's a stereotypically nerdy pony with taped glasses, moustache, unfashionable mane-cut, bowtie, acne, and robot cutie mark. When he buys the last asparagus, which Fluttershy wanted, Rarity tricks him into selling it back to Fluttershy by calling him strong and handsome.
- Gretchen Grundler from Recess.
- Gus Griswald dresses like one, but isn't really one personality-wise.
- The Pale Kids.
- Hey Arnold!! has all Type 1 nerds. Unfortunately there was an episode where Rhonda is forced to wear glasses and is immediately classified as a type 2 nerd despite looking perfectly normal. And this episode was made AFTER Harry Potter came out in America.
- Total Drama Island has the three geeky guys (Cody, Harold, Noah) who are thin/not in great shape and clearly act geeky, as well as Beth, one of few girls who doesn't look like a supermodel.
- FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman's Glen, or as he likes to be known as, "Glendalf".
- Baljeet, Carl, (Fireside Girl) Gretchen, Irving, and Albert from Phineas And Ferb.
- The definitions of 'geek', 'nerd' and sometimes 'dork' vary wildly, depending on age, region, and a variety of other factors. It's hard to find two people who agree completely on the difference. Starting a discussion on which is which tends to generate an absurd amount of Internet Backdraft wherever you go.
- Any University's Engineering Department.
- Many C.E.O.s of Tech Companies used to look like this in their youth (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, among many others), and some still do. However, they are incredibly rich now, so this trope gets somewhat subverted.