Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: History of the word "geek" ( No Answer,   3 Comments )
Subject: History of the word "geek"
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: zpatch-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 24 May 2003 12:44 PDT
Expires: 25 May 2003 18:18 PDT
Question ID: 208158
When (and where) did the word geek become popular as an almost
complementary description for a highly technical person/computer
expert? The dictionary defines the term as describing a circus
performer who bites the heads off chickens (probably from English
dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German "geck," from Middle Low
German), but the word today is worn as a badge of honor by
techno-nerds. Can anyone find the first appearance of this new usage
in the literature or online?
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: History of the word "geek"
From: dr_chung-ga on 24 May 2003 16:53 PDT
Hey zpatch-ga, 

According to the unrivalled Oxford English
Dictionary(,one of the definitions of geek
is "A person who is extremely devoted to and knowledgeable about
computers or related technology.In this sense, esp. when as a
self-designation, not necessarily depreciative."

OED charts the birth of this word as follows: 

1984 Bye in net.jokes (Usenet newsgroup) 20 Feb., I was a lonely young
computer geek With a program due 'most every week.

1989 C. STOLL Cuckoo's Egg xlvi. 242 Why are you trying to catch some
poor computer geek who's just fooling around?

1993 R. RUCKER et al. Mondo 2000 122/1 Geek is the proud, insider term
for nerd. If you are not a dedicated techie, don't use this word.

2001 Independent 4 June II. 9/1 We're the nerds, the geeks, the
dweebs: the men and women who can spend 20 hours straight
contemplating 600 bytes of obscure, arcane, impenetrable computer

So you got the answer for free!Good luck.

Subject: Re: History of the word "geek"
From: darrel-ga on 24 May 2003 18:31 PDT
It is commonly touted that geek originally meant a sideshow performer
who bites the heads off chickens or snakes. While this is a sense of
the word, it is not the original one.

Geek is actually a very old word. It is a variant of geck, a term of
Low German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means a
fool, simpleton, or dupe. Geck is even used by Shakespeare in Twelfth
Night, V.i.:

Why haue you suffer'd me to be imprison'd. And made the most notorious
gecke and gull That ere inuention plaid on?
The geek spelling is an American variation, even though Shakespeare
uses the spelling geeke in Cymbeline V.iv., but this is probably just
a misspelling. Geek first appears (outside the single Shakespearean
usage) in 1876 America. American usage adds the connotation of
offensive or undesirable to the original foolish and stupid sense. The
Carnival sideshow sense appears in 1928."

"I consulted a few databases thanks to the online resources of my
public library, where I can browse over 1,800 newspapers and magazines
for the words "geek" or "nerd." Then I checked to see if the words
were used in a negative or positive connotation. Again, this is not
conclusive, but I came up with some interesting observations. The word
"nerd" is used in a negative fashion, yet it is more akin to being
brilliant. "Geek," on the other hand, tends for the longest time to be
more of a term of derision. In the 1992 journal Progressive, "geek"
was a word used by prison guards to insult the inmates. "Nerd" still
held onto its techno-brainy allegory, with it acquiring status as a
group moniker for high school students. Those newspapers I browsed
which reported on the Columbine High School tragedy in April 1999 had
students quoted as saying that the perpetrators were likened to
"geeks." Sad commentary indeed, however another interesting phenomenon
occurred in 1999-2000 that turned the tables. Yes, I'm referring to
the Dot-Com Boom.

In 1999-2001 nearly all of the publications I browsed had "geek" as a
positive term, lauding the accomplishments of Web dignitaries such as
Jeff Bezos and Marc Andreesen. More interesting was that during this
period of 1999-2001 those articles which contained "nerd" used the
word in a derogatory manner. Sure, not indicative, but interesting
nonetheless. It's like I've always believed: economics rules the

So, are we geeks now vindicated? Have we passed the test of time with
our heads high, delighted to shout into our cellphones (complete with
Web browsing and GPS capabilities, of course), "I'm a Geek, and damned
proud of it!" This is probably the concept to describe Kevin, a
student, quoted in the magazine Teen, July 1998"
Subject: Re: History of the word "geek"
From: kriswrite-ga on 24 May 2003 18:49 PDT
Hello zpatch~

Here's what I discovered from my handy-dandy copy of "Partridges
Concise Dictionary of Alng & Unconventional English" (Edited by Paul
Beale, MacMillian Publishing Co., 1989):

"GEEK. A (long) look: Aus. {Australian]: since WWI...'a geek at that
book.'" May also derrive from the "German GUCKEN, to peep or peek;
perhaps influenced by the Cornish dial. [dialect] GEEK, to look
intently at."

This could easily lead to calling someone who is learned a "geek."

"...the lowest form of carnival performer, perhaps one who is merely
stared at."

Again, this leads us easily to someone who is well learned in a field
that many are not.

Hope this helps a little,

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy