Calling Myself a “Nerd”

Apparently, there are people out there who think it’s not okay. I kind of get them, but I also very much disagree.

I’m reading a book called Furies. It’s 16 famous female writers, best known being Margaret Atwood, reclaiming various pejorative terms used for women. These include harridan, termagant and spitfire. Why would you want to reclaim something like hussy? When you reclaim words, they lose the negative power. You begin to look at the words differently. There’s a reason why someone is acting like a virago and it’s not just something endogenous to women.

What does ‘virago’ mean anyhow? According to the Oxford dictionary:

an offensive word for a woman who is thought to be aggressive and trying to control people


Old English (used only as the name given by Adam to Eve, following the Vulgate), from Latin ‘heroic woman, female warrior’, from vir ‘man’. The current sense dates from late Middle English.

That’s much more of a positive. “From vir ‘man'” is not necessarily the best connotation (“you need to be like a man to be heroic or a warrior”), but by reclaiming this word, you can move the meaning towards this latter version and there was actually a feminist magazine using this name starting from early 70s (the first story in Furies, by Atwood, is dedicated to the founder).

This relates strongly to a discussion I was having with a colleague from another university of applied sciences. She told me her UAS had made a decision to ban the word ‘nerd’ or it’s Finnish equivalent, ‘nörtti’. This ban came about after a student had protested the use of the word. Our conversation started after I had introduced myself to the group as a nerd.

The way I feel about this is that I have identified as a nerd for decades now and I’m not going to stop. If others don’t want to identify as a nerd, that is their prerogative.

Sure, nerd can have negative connotations. It can mean unsocial. On the other hand, I’m smart, I’m knowledgeable about a variety of things and I’m curious. So, even if there is a negative dimension, I’ll happily be a nerd and I should have the right to.

At the same time, this is an identity I have chosen for myself. In that sense this isn’t comparable to being a woman, a person of color or from a specific ethnicity, or even a member of a religion. You can argue that there is a similarity to the last one, as you can choose your religion, but at the same time, it might be deeply tied to your identity and culture from birth, whereas I wasn’t a nerd until maybe like 10 years old. Or at least I didn’t identify as one.

So, there is a difference. I shouldn’t trivialize the attempts of minority groups at reclaiming specific words by claiming my “fight” is on the same level of importance, but mostly I just found this discussion weird. Is this really a priority? With all the problems in the world, should we really be stopping people from calling themselves something? I am glad to be a nerd. While the word has lost some meaning by being applied to groups that are very different from how I see myself, I still see myself through this specific lense.

At the very least, I don’t see a reason for anyone to stop myself doing that. Sure, yell at me when I call someone else a nerd without their approval, but I’m not even sure about that, because if I actually call someone a nerd, that means I appreciate their approach to life and learning. I see them as a fellow traveller, with whom I have much in common, even if our interests might not necessarily overlap.

I am a nerd and I’m proud of it. I know there are plenty of others like me embracing the name. What we should be discussing is consent. Does someone consent to being called something. I have an autobiographical book on my shelf waiting for me to find the time to read it called “The Last Living Slut”. Again, this is someone who embraced this as her identity. Does it mean we should be calling her a slut? Probably not. Should we stop her from embracing it? No.

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