European Geeks/Nerds?

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Jan 24 17:40:15 UTC 2003

Peter A McGraw wrote:

> I'm not sure I know all the connotations of "geek" and "nerd," but
> there is, or  was, a British term "swot," whose semantic range
> seems at least to intersect with these.  It means (or meant)
> something like 'studyoholic', and "swotting" means 'really hitting
> the books'.  Some of our British listers may be able to shed better
> light on this word.

"Swot" (derived from "sweat") does have that meaning, and is a deeply
pejorative term. It is now somewhat passe, being a term more in use
by the grandfathers of current school-age persons than by the present
generation. There was a fashion for "boffin" some 20 years ago with
similar meaning, but I don't know what the current term is.

Regarding an earlier message, I would say that "anorak" is - or was:
my impression is that this, too, has rather fallen out of fashion - a
term for a person deeply or obsessively engaged in some pursuit or
hobby that is regarded as of no significance - trainspotting was the
archetypal such activity, for which anoraks were essential outerwear
on cold station platforms. I have to confess that for a while, aged
12, I was a trainspotter, though this was before the days of anoraks,
and it was an acceptable hobby at that age. It's the adult ones that
were thought odd ...

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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