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The ‘geek’ origin story

Posted 8:38am on Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013

The word “geek,” which we’ve used a lot in this story, is problematic. After all, it hasn’t always been a name anyone would wear with pride.

The word has been around for a long time, having its roots in the Low German word “geck” (meaning fool) and later used for carnival performers with a taste for biting the heads off live chickens. According to Merriam-Webster, the carnivorous carny is the first definition, while the second is “a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.”

Makes you want to burn that Star Trek shirt, doesn’t it?

But it’s the third choice — “an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity” — that is closer to the new working definition for the 21st century. Geeks have reclaimed the word and turned it into something positive. Lone Star Comics’ Buddy Saunders says he only started hearing references to “geek culture” during the past 10 years.

“Up until then, everybody called themselves fans,” Saunders says. “And most people, when I go to shows and stuff, we talk about comic fans and movie fans and old radio show fans. Fans and collectors. It kind of blends together.”

-- Robert Philpot

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