Or if it's hard to define a nerd by what they like these days, how about by what they do? (According to Batman Begins, that is what defines you, after all.) There's a number of hobbies that have traditionally been associated with "nerdism," like ham radio, chess, bottlecap collecting and making scale models of anything.
Bonus points if it's made of Legos I guess.
But if you actually start asking around, you'll find people name hobbies like sewing, knitting, dancing, playing guitar, cooking and photography to define themselves as nerds. What the hell? Does anyone consider Gordon Ramsay a nerd? Jimi Hendrix? Your grandmother?
West Valley College
Elvis Presley: Nerd?
Nerd hobbies are suffering the same nebulous loss of meaning as nerd fandoms. Separating out weird hobbies to make fun of made more sense in a time when people didn't have as much free time and didn't have as much technology, which kind of limited the amount of hobbies you could have. Sports was the defining mainstream hobby, and kids who couldn't do them filtered out to clubs with less physical activities, so those clubs got a reputation for having people who couldn't hack it with the top dogs.
Nowadays, there are a million formerly weird and isolated hobbies that are mainstream enough you can take lessons for them or buy guided tours or watch TV shows dedicated to them. Skydiving, bodysurfing, pole dancing, belly dancing, geocaching, tabletop RPGs, photoshopping, drawing webcomics, criticizing webcomics, building fighting robots -- you name it. A lot of people might think these pursuits are weird, but if there's a TV show or a bunch of companies offering lessons or you're getting a million views on the Internet, they'll accept this is as a real thing that lots of people like for some reason.
Can't say I get it, but this is what the people want ... ed for like two months.
Even the most jockish of hobbies, sports, is full of nerds now, with hosts of companies using mathematical models and statistical analysis to help teams scout, probably made most famous through baseball's Sabermetrics, a mathematical approach to the game that co-starred with Brad Pitt in Moneyball. 27 million Americans pore over stats and tables every week to try to get the edge in their fantasy football leagues.
Coming from the other side, the most definitive of nerd hobbies, video gaming, has been compromised by the outside world. Seventy-two percent of American households play video games, and the average age of a player is 37. Forty-two percent of them are women.
Now granted, a lot of these people are playing online poker and Cityville, and are not racking up the kills in Modern Warfare or anything. Still, it really cuts down on the number of people who would make fun of someone just for playing video games.
At least they have to be more specific now in belittling gamers, and add a whole bunch of qualifying remarks about how they're talking about a specific age of player, or a player who plays more than a certain amount of hours, or plays a certain type of game, just to make sure their taunting doesn't boomerang on them.
Of course people who play one kind of game and sneer at people who play other types of games are creeping dangerously close to making nerds into ...
This is almost the opposite of what nerds were originally supposed to be. Nerds were supposed to be people on the outside that just couldn't get in. A lot of people these days, though, are turning it into an exclusive club they won't let the outside world get into. People get really vicious about calling out "fake nerds" and really nervous about establishing their own "nerd cred."
I've seen it used to describe being at a higher level of taste/knowledge in a certain area, as in, "It's OK, I understand why you people swallow that mainstream, manipulative Forrest Gump pap, because you don't know any better, you're not a film nerd like me."
"See, I understand that the only good movies are the ones where nothing happens."
In this new arrangement, the nerd is the one who's in a position to look down on the masses.
Some of that is understandable. People who have been on the outside for a long time, and finally find a small group of like-minded folks to band with out on the fringes, would naturally be quite upset when tons of the very insiders who had excluded them for so many years came pouring out from Cool Land and plopped right down in the middle of Comic Book Refugee Camp, claiming loudly that they had been there the whole time.
If the guy that used to taunt you for playing video games is now wearing an ironic Valve trucker hat and chest-thumping to all his buddies about his kill counts and epic teabaggings and the booth babes he scored with at E3, you would understandably not want to chat with him about which Portal shirt would look cooler on him.
Also he just discovered "The cake is a lie," and quotes it constantly.
Those people are really annoying, but in fighting them, what are you really holding on to? If you cared about a specific game or Star Trek series before everybody jumped on board, sure, maybe you want to cling onto your loyal fan badge for that particular thing, but protecting the "nerd" label itself? If you want to defend liking Game of Thrones back when it was just books, does it really make sense to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 16-year-old Xbox Live addicts, moth collectors and a Cisco software engineer? Maybe they think Game of Thrones is overhyped and tries too hard to be gritty and all the characters' names are stupid.
This is their totally hypothetical opinion. I would never say anything like that about such a beloved and critically acclaimed series.
With the diffusion of hobbies and entertainment, and the fact that it's cool to be smart now, maybe the word "nerd" doesn't really mean anything useful anymore. It was hard enough to get people to agree on what it meant before -- was it mainly about the rejection? Did you have to be smart? Which hobbies counted? -- but now it's even less clear.
Nerds don't even dress like nerds these days. Someone dressed like this would be a hipster.
Maybe it's time to drop the word and focus separately on each of the "nerd" traits we happen to have. Traits that include so many people that if we called them all nerds, there would be more "nerds" than non-nerds. So instead of calling our own set of traits "nerd things" and arguing with other nerds about why traits outside of our set aren't "real" nerd things, why not just say there's no definitive standard for nerdiness and let us all be the individual things that make us up?
Be smart. Be socially awkward. Be a Joss Whedon or Dr. Who or Bleach fan. Be an Angry Birds player or a JRPG gamer or a hardcore FPS killer. Hate everyone who isn't. Or do all of the above.
And I'm not going to call you a nerd for it. I'm just going to call you someone with really bad taste.
For more from Christina, check out 6 Groups Who Don't Work as Movie Bad Guys Anymore and 5 Reasons The War Between Dog and Cat People Needs to Stop.