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The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people, with different connotations ranging from an expert or enthusiast to a person heavily interested in a hobby, with a general pejorative meaning of a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp[ecially] one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.
Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to connote "someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake."
This word comes from English dialect geek or geck (meaning a "fool" or "freak"; from Middle Low German Geck). This root survives in the Dutch and Afrikaans adjective gek ("crazy"), as well as some German dialects, and in the Alsatian word Gickeleshut ("jester's hat"; used during carnival). In 18th century Austria-Hungary, Gecken were freaks on display in some circuses. In 19th century North America, the term geek referred to a performer in a geek show in a circus or travelling carnival side-shows (see also freak show). The 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary included only the definition regarding geek shows. Wrestler Freddie Blassie originated the term pencil necked geek.
The Scandinavian cognates of the term carry a slightly different meaning of making a fool out of someone else. This is evident in the transitive verb gäcka in Swedish and the phrase drive gæk med in Danish, both of which mean to outsmart or to fool, as in the Swedish expression att gäcka rättvisan ("to cunningly escape justice"). In Denmark, the Easter tradition of sending anonymous paper-cut letters called gækkebreve is intended to puzzle or tease the recipient.
The definition of geek has changed considerably over time, and there is no longer a definitive meaning. The term nerd has a similar, practically synonymous meaning as geek, but many choose to identify different connotations among these two terms, although the differences are disputed. In a 2007 interview on The Colbert Report, Richard Clarke said the difference between nerds and geeks is "geeks get it done" or "ggid" Julie Smith defined a geek as "a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace—somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager's room in his parents' house."
Technology oriented geeks, in particular, now exert a powerful influence over the global economy and society. Whereas previous generations of geeks tended to operate in research departments, laboratories and support functions, now they increasingly occupy senior corporate positions, and wield considerable commercial and political influence. When U.S. President Barack Obama met with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of the world’s largest technology firms at a private dinner in Woodside, California on 17 February 2011, New York magazine ran a story titled ‘The world’s most powerful man meets President Obama.’ At the time, Zuckerberg’s company had grown to over one billion users.
According to Mark Roeder the rise of the geek represents a new phase of human evolution. In his book, Unnatural Selection: why the geeks will inherit the earth, he suggests that ‘the high-tech environment of the Anthropocene favours people with geek-like traits, many of whom are on the autism spectrum, ADHD, or dyslexia. Previously, such people may have been at a disadvantage, but now their unique cognitive traits enable some of them to resonate with the new technological zeitgeist and become very successful.’
The Economist magazine observed, on 2 June 2012, ‘Those square pegs (geeks) may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organisation can prosper without them.’
"Geek chic" refers to a minor fashion trend that arose in the mid 2000s in which young individuals adopted stereotypically "geeky" fashions, such as oversized black horn-rimmed glasses, suspenders/braces, and highwater trousers. The glasses—sometimes worn with non-prescription lenses or without lenses—quickly became the defining aspect of the trend, with the media identifying various celebrities as "trying geek" or "going geek" for wearing such glasses, such as David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, and Myleene Klass. Meanwhile, in the sports world, many NBA players wore "geek glasses" during post-game interviews, drawing comparisons to Steve Urkel.
As many of the other identifying characteristics of the trend, such as clip-on suspenders worn with short-sleeved shirts, were unsuitable for the business environment into which young adherents were entering, the trend quickly died out. However, heightened media awareness of the hipster subculture, which had simultaneously embraced thick-rimmed glasses, led to a conflation of hipster aesthetics with "geek chic." As a result, the media and social commentators continued erroneously referring to hipsters as "geek chic" after the trend had faded. The term is now nominally used in the world of retail optics, where it is similarly erroneously applied to both hipsters as well as retro style.
In the wake of the fashion trend, the term "geek chic" was appropriated by some self-identified "geeks" to refer to a new, socially acceptable role in a technologically advanced society.
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