"nerd" (1951) in Merriam-Webster files

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sat Sep 15 23:18:35 UTC 2001

    Fred Shapiro today requested Merriam-Webster's Joanne Despres to
post the 1951 citation of "nerd":

>Actually, in my opinion, it's likely that Dr. Seuss did not coin "nerd."
>Merriam-Webster has a 1951 citation in its files indicating the word was
>already current by that year and making no reference to Seuss (I have seen
>the citation, but don't have it handy, perhaps Joanne Despres could post
>it).  Given the facts that the Seuss usage was 1950 and that the Seuss
>usage may be a coincidental occurrence, I would surmise that there was a
>slang word "nerd" not originating with Seuss and going back at least to
>the late 1940s.
>Fred Shapiro

        I checked my files on "nerd" and find the following e-mail
from Joanne Despres:

>Date:         Fri, 4 Feb 2000
>From: "Joanne M. Despres" <jdespres at MAIL.M-W.COM>
>Subject:      Re: Wuss & others
>No, the 1951 citation in our files does not have anything to do with
>the Dr. Seuss character; it is the first use of _nerd_ we've been able to
>find that applies to any person having the characteristics
>described in the definition ("an unstylish, unattractive, or socially
>inept person").  The Seuss critter is, however, mentioned in our etymology
>as a possible source for the generic term.
>The citation, by the way, comes from Newsweek (October 8, 1951, p.
>28) and reads as follows:
>"In Detroit, someone who once would be called a drip or a square is
>now, regrettably, a nerd, or in a less severe case, a scurve."
>Joanne Despres

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