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A Short Illustrated History of the Nerd

Where did the nerd originate, both as a word an individual and, possibly, a species? What were the original societal perceptions of the nerd? How have these changed over the decades? Enter the world of the nerd and discover for yourself this fascinating and light hearted illustrated history of the origin of the species. Darwin, eat your heart out.

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(image credit: bayat)

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His investigation into the origins of the word "nerd" is pretty exhaustive, but hardly conclusive. Dr. Seuss loved to invent words based on their sounds, much as Lewis Carroll did, and there's no indication that Seuss' "nerd" had any "nerdly" characteristics. Seuss may have been the first to put this made-up word into print, but the connection between his nerd and the now-common definition is looser than, say, the connection between James Joyce's "quarks" (for Mr. Marks) and the sub-atomic particle. (At least the scientist who named it gave credit where it's due. But Mr. Joyce knew nothing of particle physics.)

My own theory on the origin of "nerd" as synonym for "brainiac" came to me as I looked for a street sign in an unfamiliar town and spotted a "Brainerd Street." Apparently, "Brainerd" is a last name, albeit one I'd never encountered. Was it more well-known in a previous generation? Could it be that a high school brainiac with the last name of "Brainerd" had his name shortened to "Nerd" by the jock who forced him to do his homework for him? As a sort-of nerd myself, and one with a name almost unknown in the USA (but very common in and around the Czech Republic), I've found that loud-mouthed bullies do have a tendency to ridicule their victims' names, shorten them and such. Perhaps turning half of the poor Brainerd kid's last name into a label for all such "nerds" was this jock's sole creative effort in his otherwise empty life.
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