"nerd" etymythology

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jul 18 15:50:11 UTC 2011

There is an interesting webpage on the origin of the term nerd. All
the citations that the author is aware of in the 1950s are listed.


There are very few citations in the 1950s. So here are some more. They
are all dated after the 1951 Newsweek article, and some are not
verified on paper.

Here is an unverified GB match in Collier's magazine. The snippet does
not show the relevant text, and I have not verified the information on
paper. But it is an interesting lead, I think, because the date given
is relatively early: 1952.

Cite: circa 1952, Collier's: incorporating features of the American
magazine (Google Books; Unverified)

Raw OCR from Snippet view:
Age Clothes. 9o get on the stick with these real fat, real eool,
really craay elothes. Don't be a Party-Pooper or a nerd. Yes,
everybody is bashing ears about Hoffman's Teen-Age Clothes. They're
Frampton. They're pash-ple. ...


This is a reprint of the Newsweek article in the mass-circulation
Reader's Digest.
Cite: 1952 January, The Reader's Digest, Real George All The Way
[Condensed from Newsweek article dated October 8, 1951], Page 57,
Reader's Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

In Detroit, someone who once would have been called a drip or a square
is now a nerd, or in a less severe case a scurve. A Cadillac
convertible is real cool or even shafty, and its driver, particularly
if he be cat, or well dressed, is cool Jonah.

Cite: 1954 February 9, Kentucky New Era, Teen-ager Language Is
Puzzling To Some Adults by Vivian Brown, Associated Press, Page 6 [GNA
Page 5], Hopkinsville, Kentucky. (Google News Archive)

There were real wheels in the long gone with '23-skidoo' Daddy-o, but
that stuff wails now. As a matter of fact, it's stoned.

And the same goes for the nerds and oddballs who think "George" is
real cool for "cool."
A girl is a chick or a doll and a boy is a cat. Cats who lack grey
matter are nerds or oddballs.

There's no better way to identify yourself as a nerd than by saying
something is "George." Cat, what you mean is "cool."


The AP article appears in this newspaper also.
Cite: 1954 February 14, News And Courier, Denver Teenagers Interviewed
For Slang And Styles, AP Newsfeature, Charleston, South Carolina.
(Google News Archive)


Cite: 1954 October 27, Boston Globe, "The Real Gone If You're Lukewarm
and a Long Gone Nerd, Read This Nervous List", Page 15, Boston,
Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

When a teen age boy tells his father, "Lad, you're the leastest," it's
time for the old man to get insulted.

To find out why, you'll have to read today's assignment in the Real
Gone Lexicon of modern jive talk. It's been compiled by William Morris
for the Bell Syndicate.

NERD--A square, one who is not up with the times.

Cite: Circa 1955, Funny in a Way, Greenwich Book Publishers. (Google
Books snippet; Not verified in paper)

"Drip and goon" are widely used terms for "low rating" a person. Today
he is a "nerd" or a "scurve.



On Sat, Jul 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM, Ben Zimmer
<bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      "nerd" etymythology
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The English actor and comedian Simon Pegg has a new book out called _Nerd D=
> o
> Well_, and in interviews he explains the title as a play on what he claims
> is the etymology of "nerd", from "ne'er-do-well".
> ---
> http://www.maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/simon-pegg-actor-and-filmmake=
> r-interview-sound-young-america
> [starting around 2:40]
> It ["nerd"] does come from the phrase "ne'er do well". I mean, that's where
> the word is derived from. It was a shortening of that, which then became
> "nehrd" [nE:d] and then "nerd" [n@:d], and then... you know, meaning someon=
> e
> on the fringes of society.
> ---
> http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/the-geek-will-out
> Why call your book Nerd Do Well?
> That=92s where the word =91Nerd=92 comes from. The word Nerd is a shortenin=
> g of
> Ne=92er Do Well.
> ---
> I've heard many proposed etymologies for "nerd" ("knurd" as a reversal of
> "drunk", "nurd" as a rhyming alteration of "turd", etc.), but this was a ne=
> w
> one on me. I see on Google Books that it appeared in a May 26, 1987 _PC
> Magazine_ column by John C. Dvorak ("Origins of the Word 'Nerd'"). Dvorak
> dismissed the theory, along with many others, in favor of an origin from Dr=
> .
> Seuss's _If I Ran the Zoo_. And John A. Barry seems to suggest that the
> etymythology was his own in the 1991 book _Technobabble_:
> http://books.google.com/books?id=3DShGYef744mgC&pg=3DPA151
> --bgz
> --=20
> Ben Zimmer
> http://benzimmer.com/
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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