Where Does the Word "Nerd" Come From?

The first printed instance of the word "nerd" occurs in the Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Zoo," published in 1950. The passage lists "a nerd" as one of the fantastical animals that the protagonist would put in his zoo. The text reads: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo/And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo/ A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!" One year later, Newsweek magazine included the word in an article with its now-familiar definition: someone who's a "drip" or a "square." Some people believe that "nerds" popular usage evolved from the 1940s slang term "nert," which describes a "stupid or crazy person."

The Origins of the Words "Geek" and "Nerd"

"Geek" dates back to 1916.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. In the early 1900s, the word "geek" described circus performers who would bite the heads off of small animals. 00:09

  2. In 1951, a Newsweek article announced that "someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd[.]" 00:53

  3. The proper pronunciation of Dr. Seuss is "Dr. Zoice." 01:31

The Difference Between a Nerd and a Geek

The guys at Good Mythical Morning on how to tell the difference.

Weird Word Origins

Get the backstory on words like "lemur" and "hippocampus."

Key Facts In This Video

  1. As language progresses over time, nouns have a tendency to become verbs. 00:23

  2. Association football emerged in England in the 1800s, which was shortened to the word "soccer" in 1860. 01:18

  3. The name for the root vegetable rutabaga was also once slang for dollars in the 1940s. 02:14

Written by Curiosity Staff June 29, 2015

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