You know that way when you hear a word or phrase, or see something, and suddenly you keep hearing or seeing it everywhere? Well, I’ve had a lot of that recently – as if the universe is embracing serendipity like it’s going out of fashion. One of the topics that keeps coming up is ‘geeks’. Susie Dent on Countdown has an ‘Origins of Words’ feature every episode where she discusses the derivation and drift (there ya go dad) in meaning and usage of words. On Thursday’s episode [currently available on 4oD, Thursday 14th Nov, 26mins into the episode], she was discussing the origins and development of the word ‘geek’. Apparently, the first usage of the word ‘geek’ in the 1800s meant someone foolish or offensive (from the Germanic word ‘geck’); it came to be applied to “spotty, unsociable students”; then came to be applied to people who were knowledgeable about computers – and you can see socially there’s been a reclaiming of the word into something positive – geek chic, geek pride etc. – people celebrating their interests, knowledge, and ‘geekiness’.
My mum was talking about a teenage boy she had met whose extensive knowledge of military history and manner when talking on the topic suggested Asperger’s. My dad and I were talking about continuity errors in theatre or film, and the type of person who will not only spot such inconsistencies, but will actively be on the look-out for these. I have a lot of friends who are into their fantasy, sci-fi, comics, role-playing games – all traditionally ‘geeky’ topics. Recently I was at a flat-party held by one of these friends. I didn’t know the vast majority of the people there, but essentially I walked into a room filled with unfortunate looking men (most wearing very thick rimmed glasses), who seemed completely incapable of making eye contact or holding basic conversation with a stranger. Honestly, I was quite taken aback, because for all that I’m aware of the geeky IT stereotype – the concept that programmes like The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd are based upon – I’m used to interacting with ‘functioning geeks’ – people who are really into the hobbies and topics mentioned above, but can also function perfectly well on a social level. So essentially, having understood (before Susie’s talk) the drift in implication of the word from ‘obsessive in-depth and socially inept’ to the idea of ‘geek pride’; in my actual real-life experience, I’d never encountered the former to this extent.
I have recently graduated in Information and Library Studies – which for the sake of simplicity I describe to people as essentially being ‘the qualification to be a librarian’. Having been back at Uni last year, and joined the rugby team and concert band, I’ve met a lot of new people and had that ‘so what are you studying?’ conversation multiple times. I’ve been highly entertained by the number of (young) people who, when I’ve told them what I’m studying, have replied, “cool!” So, Librarian = cool. Sure, I think it’s great – but it’s been interesting (and awesome) to see the number of other people who also seem to hold that opinion. Maybe it’s just the circles that I move in, maybe it’s just because it’s a slightly different/niche career choice, maybe this is part of the geek-chic perception.
As I said, I’ve recently graduated…and am currently unemployed. My mood swings vary between optimistic and despondent, interspersed with manic fits of organising my life and immediate surroundings – be those drawers, bookshelves, or boyfriendface’s bedsheets. To my delight I have recently acquired a new and bigger bookcase (well, new to me – it’s from home, and somewhat skew-wickety (a unique blend of skew-whiff and rickety)). I have taken immense pleasure in libraritising (join my campaign to get this verb added to the dictionary) my books. While the idea of using Worldcat and WebDewey to identify or construct Dewey numbers for all my books, and shelving them accordingly, did fleetingly cross my mind, I knew that a) for a personal collection of this size and content, that would not be the most appropriate way of organising these books b) that would not be efficient usage of my resources (i.e. would be a complete waste of time) and c) that would just be sad! When I was doing my undergrad English degree, a girl in one of my classes said she had a friend who organised her books according to ‘which books they would be friends with’. I quite like the idea – and I feel that it has the capacity to incorporate e.g. stylistic associations rather than blanket subject or genres. So my shelves run accordingly: plays and poetry (of which I have few, so I just group them together at the start), non-fiction Christian stuff (again, the odd bits and pieces mum has left with me over lent or advent, plus some C.S Lewis stuff); classic epic stuff (and Canterbury Tales, because I think Canterbury Tales would be friends with those books); Fairy Tales; children’s books and fantasy (which runs Harry Potter, Dark Materials, Narnia, Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Neil Gaiman, Wicked); then runs into sci-fi/fantasyish comedy (Hitchhiker’s Guide, then Thursday Next series); then comedy and easy reading; which then goes into comedy/crime (Stephanie Plum series followed by Christopher Brookmyre); then thriller/horror/gothic; then because Northanger Abbey would be friends with gothic, but also obviously friends with Jane Eyre/Lorna Doone/Sunset Song; which from there can run into social commentary and dystopia; and then Trainspotting bridges between that and also drugs/violence/messed up (Clockwork Orange, Down the Rabbit Hole, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas); Fear and Loathing being road-trippy (teehee – see what I did there?) can be friends with On the Road, which can go with other coming of age/outcasty character/finding yourself; and so on and so forth…
To quote Simon Pegg:
Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.
Well said Mr Pegg.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a geek. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as ‘cool’ either – through high school I was far too academic and far too good (behaviour-wise) for that. I’m a big reader. Other things I enjoy include Countdown (it’s fun to play along, and really satisfying when you spot a big word – and I really enjoy Susie’s sections, which, as someone who likes words, I find really interesting); and I really like Pointless – because useless facts are fun. I guess all of these things could be classed as geeky to an extent. However, I am nowhere near geeky enough to be embraced by geeks as one of their own. Although, boyfriendface claims that since I receive a monthly library magazine this makes me geekier than him and his Live Action Role Playing. I disagree based on the fact that it’s a ‘work thing’ as opposed to a hobby. Anyway, I got really excited and happy about organising my bookshelf. Would I be too embarrassed to tell other people about it? No – I am honest about getting excited about books and demonstrating that affection … to an extent.
I also saw a pendant online that read ‘I believe in 398.2’ (which is the Dewey number for fairy tales, folktales and fables). I like fairy tales, folktales, fables, myths and legends; I like organising things; I like references – and I like that I got that reference when I saw it (kind of – I couldn’t have told you offhand the Dewey number for that subject group, but from the phrase I correctly guessed that’s what the reference meant when I saw the necklace). Will I buy it…? Maybe – I quite like it. Would I buy it and wear it in public….? Nnnngggh….