Before you buy a pair of thick-rimmed non-prescription glasses and post a selfie on Instagram that says #nerd! followed by a million emojis, here are some things that real nerds know.
You have to earn your glasses. Real nerds read past their bedtimes during childhood, using a dying flashlight to finish their books under the covers. Real nerds spent too many hours playing video games or watching cartoons too close to the television. You can’t just slap on a pair of glasses and say that it makes you a nerd. What you did to ruin your eyesight is what makes you a nerd.
Liking Star Wars doesn’t make you a nerd. Hear me out! Just liking Star Wars doesn’t make you a nerd. Everybody on the planet likes Star Wars. It’s a billion-dollar industry for a reason, and that reason is that it’s cool and easily accessible for nerds and non-nerds alike. On the other hand, if you collect Star Wars toys and accessories well into adulthood and read the Star Wars novels and comics in your free time, then go ahead. A nerd you are.
Nerd has become a commonly-used, mock-self-deprecating term of endearment, but it wasn’t always so. Real nerds were usually made fun of in school for the way they looked, the things they liked, the clothes they wore, etc. The Marvel blockbuster hits have made comic books cool among the general population, but there was a time when liking X-Men wasn’t something you would want to announce in front of a group of your peers. That history of being mocked or shunned or simply ignored throughout our formative years is part of what makes us who we are.
Real nerds are smart. I don’t just mean we can keep up in a conversation about music or politics. I mean we read real books for fun and not just because they’re assigned to us. Or maybe we go out of our way to learn everything there is to know about a certain topic. We have a curiosity for the world and the way things work in it that goes beyond a good game of pub trivia or a semester abroad that was “like, so amazing.” Maybe you casually bring up Amelie and we go into a ten minute lecture of the history of French cinema, not in a pretentious way, but in a boring, encyclopedic way. Like I said, we were not the most popular kids in our classes.
When real nerds love something, it’s no good unless they love it all the way. Some nerds like comic books, some nerds like Star Wars or Star Trek, or the Redwall book series, or all of the above. Or maybe it’s something that is also typically perceived as “cool,” like vegan food or The Pixies. But when a real nerd gets into something, we know it inside and out. We’ve seen every episode, read every book in the series, own every album (in hard copy, no less), collect the paraphernalia, and probably even go to conventions related to our passion. We spend time on these things that non-nerds spend out at bars with their friends.
So, I’m sorry, Instagram hashtag selfie “nerds,” but real nerds know that you are not.