The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit, with a general pejorative meaning of a "peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward".
Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to refer to "someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake".
This word comes from English dialect geek or geck (meaning a "fool" or "freak"; from Middle Low German Geck). "Geck" is a standard term in modern German and means "fool" or "fop". The root also survives in the Dutch and Afrikaans adjective gek ("crazy"), as well as some German dialects, and in the Alsatian word Gickeleshut ("jester's hat"; used during carnival). In 18th century Austria-Hungary, Gecken were freaks on display in some circuses. In 19th century North America, the term geek referred to a performer in a geek show in a circus, traveling carnival or travelling funfair sideshows (see also freak show). The 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary included only the definition regarding geek shows. This variation of the term was used to comic effect in an episode of popular 1970s TV show Sanford & Son. Professional wrestling manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie recorded a song in the 1970s called "Pencil-Necked Geek".
The definition of geek has changed considerably over time, and there is no longer a definitive meaning. The term nerd has a similar, practically synonymous meaning as geek, but many choose to identify different connotations among these two terms, although the differences are disputed. In a 2007 interview on The Colbert Report, Richard Clarke said the difference between nerds and geeks is "geeks get it done" or "ggid" Julie Smith defined a geek as "a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace—somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager's room in his parents' house".
There are many categories of geeks, such as: science geeks, math geeks (maths geeks, in British English), computer geeks, history geeks, gaming geeks, etc. In Silicon Valley parlance, a geek is a software or hardware engineer.
Technologically oriented geeks, in particular, now exert a powerful influence over the global economy and society. Whereas previous generations of geeks tended to operate in research departments, laboratories and support functions, now they increasingly occupy senior corporate positions, and wield considerable commercial and political influence. When U.S. President Barack Obama met with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of the world’s largest technology firms at a private dinner in Woodside, California on 17 February 2011, New York magazine ran a story titled "The world’s most powerful man meets President Obama". At the time, Zuckerberg’s company had grown to over one billion users.
According to Mark Roeder the rise of the geek represents a new phase of human evolution. In his book, Unnatural Selection: Why The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth he suggests that "the high-tech environment of the Anthropocene favours people with geek-like traits, many of whom are on the autism spectrum, ADHD, or dyslexia. Previously, such people may have been at a disadvantage, but now their unique cognitive traits enable some of them to resonate with the new technological zeitgeist and become very successful."
The Economist magazine observed, on 2 June 2012, "Those square pegs (geeks) may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organisation can prosper without them."
"Geek chic" refers to a minor fashion trend that arose in the mid 2000s in which young individuals adopted stereotypically "geeky" fashions, such as oversized black horn-rimmed glasses, suspenders/braces, and highwater trousers. The glasses—sometimes worn with non-prescription lenses or without lenses—quickly became the defining aspect of the trend, with the media identifying various celebrities as "trying geek" or "going geek" for wearing such glasses, such as David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, and Myleene Klass. Meanwhile, in the sports world, many NBA players wore "geek glasses" during post-game interviews, drawing comparisons to Steve Urkel.
As many of the other identifying characteristics of the trend, such as clip-on suspenders worn with short-sleeved shirts, were unsuitable for the business environment into which young adherents were entering, the trend quickly died out. However, heightened media awareness of the hipster subculture, which had simultaneously embraced thick-rimmed glasses, led to a conflation of hipster aesthetics with "geek chic." As a result, the media and social commentators continued referring to hipsters as "geek chic" after the trend had faded. The term is now nominally used in the world of retail optics, where it is similarly applied to both hipsters as well as retro style.
In the wake of the fashion trend, the term "geek chic" was appropriated by some self-identified "geeks" to refer to a new, socially acceptable role in a technologically advanced society.