Where Did the Term “Geek” Come From?

Where Did the Term “Geek” Come From?

Nerd. Geek. Two common words many of us use interchangeably to describe ourselves today. However, both terms share a similar negative origin. “Nerd”, interestingly enough was a word created by Dr. Seuss, in the book “If I Ran the Zoo” to describe an angry old man. Then in 1951 a Newsweek article began to use the word “nerd” in the place of calling someone a “square.” Source

screenshot-2014-11-05-at-16-58-42-the-real-story-of-american-horror-story-freak-show-s-meep-the-geek-is-fascinating-png-168349I believe the term “Geek” has a much more interesting origin. It is a 20th century term for a specific type of carnival worker. “Geeks” were carnival workers that could not perform elaborate acts, so their role was simplified to horrifying and shocking the audience by biting the heads off of live animals.  “Geeks” were socially unacceptable and unskilled, however the term became one circus performers used with pride amongst themselves, while the rest of the world called them “freaks”. The fourth season of American Horror Story  was centered around a Freak Show in which the Geek was a main character and a significant part of the show. As freak shows became illegal they moved to carnivals and only a few of the grotesque acts survived, such as the Geek. The use of the term, however, and the generalization of it to refer to all people “strange” as freaks, encouraged the development of a community.


Both terms still carried a bit of the negative meaning into modern years, but the rise of social media stars and various television shows entering the mainstream media began to make being the socially outcast “geek” or “nerd” the popular thing to be. This has had both a positive and negative effect on the community. On the one hand, collectables are more mass produced and easier to acquire. Which personally makes them less desirable when you see them everywhere.

People still argue over what is considered nerdy and what is considered geeky, the popular decision being that “nerds” are more academically learned and “geeks” are more about hobbies. I will still use them interchangeably, in most cases if you are one, you are likely the other as well. Whatever the original connotation, they are both words that have come into their own culturally that people of all fandoms wear as a badge of pride, as the circus folk did before.

Kacie Jones

Cosplayer, model, avid gamer, comic book geek. Also movies, I love movies.