The word “nerd” was first coined by Dr. Seuss in his book “If I Ran the Zoo.”
What’s the origin of the word Nerd?
The first use of the word nerd appeared in Dr. Seuss’s 1950 If I Ran the Zoo.
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!
According to Merriam-Webster (cited below):
“In October of the following year, Newsweek carried an article about the latest slang that includes the word nerd. ‘In Detroit,’ it notes, ‘someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd, or in less severe cases, a scurve.’
It’s not until the 1960s, however, that nerd (as well as its alternate spelling nurd) takes off and starts appearing more frequently in running text (as opposed to lists of slang). Over the decade and into the ’70s, print usage of nerd became truly abundant. It could be said, then, that nerd established colloquial usage around that time.”
What makes someone nerdy?
Traditionally, a nerd is a person who is highly intellectual and knowledgeable in a particular field. But it’s typically coupled with being socially awkward. Nerds are often seen as being overly absorbed in their interests. They’re and are often associated with being passionate about a certain subject, such as science, technology, mathematics, or fantasy fiction.
More recently, the term “nerd” has been reclaimed by many people and has taken on a more positive connotation. People are now proud to call themselves “nerds.” They believe it makes them seem proud of their superior knowledge on a topic.
If the modern word “nerd” truly came from Dr. Suess, it was likely interpreted as a pejorative term because of the appearance of the character sharing a page with the passage. However, that character appeared to be more grouchy than traditionally nerdy.
Merriam-Webster suggests other possible origins for the word nerd as it related to being deeply passionate yet uncool.
“Another character whose name has been mentioned as a possible source of the word is Mortimer Snerd, a ventriloquist’s dummy created by Edgar Bergen. Modeled on a country bumpkin, Snerd perhaps reminded listeners of a “drip” (someone who is looked on as tiresomely or annoyingly dull), and, therefore—according to Newsweek in 1951—a nerd. Snerd’s drippy qualities were magnified by his sophisticated foil, the dummy Charlie McCarthy. Bergen’s radio show was popular from the late 1930s through the 1950s, and it’s possible that Seuss had Snerd in mind when he wrote the rhyme—but the claim is unverifiable.”