Stop using “nerd” to describe people who like computers

I’m tired of the use of the word “nerd” to describe people who like computers.

There’s no problem with people using the word to describe themselves, that’s fine. The issue is using that word to describe anyone who likes computers, and implying a lot of coupled interests with simply enjoying computing.

I have a problem with it because I want everyone to feel welcome to play with computers.

I don’t think there’s a “type of person” who is “good” at computers.

I especially think that if there was that type of person, it wouldn’t be something like “someone who likes Doctor Who [or insert piece of “nerd” canon].”

How about we let people be into whatever they’re into and not be judgmental mean people about it? Feigning surprise when someone into computers isn’t also into British science fiction isn’t nice.

So let’s stop coupling “likes to play with computers” or “likes to program,” which are becoming essential skills akin to language literacy, with cultural references that limit the people who are welcome to the party.

If by using the word “nerd,” it ever discourages someone from even trying to play with computers, I think that’s a terrible terrible thing.

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5 Responses to “Stop using “nerd” to describe people who like computers”

  1. Audrey April 6, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    I remember hiding the fact that I was taking Intro to Programming in middle school because people said it was for nerds!

  2. Julia Evans April 6, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    I love this post! Related, on how being passionate about programming is bullshit, even for people who REALLY LIKE PROGRAMMING A WHOLE LOT: http://devblog.avdi.org/2014/01/31/the-moderately-enthusiastic-programmer/

  3. Viraj April 6, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    For the record, I like the term nerd. Im a HUGE nerd, and it’s great! Nerd doesn’t mean I have no social skills (unless none of you haven’t pointed that out yet), nor does it mean I only have 1 interest (far from it). I like talking about technology, philosophy, biology, and much more, and in general diving deep and getting nitty gritty — the interesting parts are in the details of things, and in the opinions of others. And dictionary definitions aren’t a great way to build a discussion, dictionaries just aren’t authorities on language. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hacker

    • Pam Selle April 8, 2015 at 12:14 am #

      As I said in chat we don’t disagree about the dictionary thing! I updated the post to change that line to something that I think more clearly expresses the intent. So you call yourself a nerd, great! But just because someone likes computers, doesn’t mean they HAVE to consider *themselves* a nerd too.

  4. Tina Runge September 17, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

    Why is it acceptable to call ourselves or any one a derogatory name? I have never understood the concept or the lack of compassion making it acceptable. The word (nerd) did not even exist until when, a movie made it up? I choose to thank people that are intelligent and sensitive for the frontiers in the media, science, and medicine. And I try to speak up about it, especially to children whose self concepts and concepts are forming. This is one word not in my vocabulary as I see it as inaccurate and it gives a distorted view of people. May we see each other with compassion and gratitude.

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