Created | Updated Aug 29, 2012
At some point, probably in primary school, many of us are called a dork, nerd, geek, or some other such name. Though generally used in a derogatory sense, many of the qualities associated with dorks are becoming increasingly desirable in modern society. However, dork has yet to be reclaimed in the same way as gay, queer or hag, and so the time has come to shed some light on what precisely constitutes 'dorkness'. That is the purpose of this entry.
What is a Dork?
The word 'dork' originated as a slang word for penis, and was later used as a derogatory term for pretty much anyone who was socially unpopular. In truth, a dork is someone who is intelligent, sober, and who prefers more cerebral pastimes to running around a cold, wet, muddy field early on a Saturday morning when they could be in a nice, warm bed. Dork generally takes the form of a teenage subculture, but more and more adults are also turning to the 'dork side'.
Dorks are primarily divided into four main categories; geeks, nerds, otaku, and dweebs, as well as a number of splinter groups. As in almost any classification system, there is a lot of overlap and very few dorks fit into one of these categories exclusively. Many people who know the differences describe themselves as a combination of three, or as one but with elements of the others.
Geek - originally, a geek referred to a circus sideshow in which a man bit the heads off small animals - a bit like what Ozzy Osbourne did to bats when he was still in Black Sabbath. 'Geek' was later used as a slang term for any weird person, and then simply as someone who was uncool or socially unpopular. Modern geeks are characterised by a special interest in fantasy, comics, and role-playing games. They tend to be fairly computer-literate, and are often seen hanging around game stores and comic book shops.
Nerds - a type of dork whose interest lies in science, science fiction, and computers. Despite what the Geek Code might say, nerds tend to be somewhat more computer-literate than geeks, but this has not stopped both groups from claiming to have invented the Internet1. Nerds can generally be located in videogame shops and computer shops, although it is not unknown for them to be seen in comic book shops.
Otaku - this word originated as the Japanese term for something along the lines of 'your honourable house', and was used as a polite greeting for much of Japan's history. Later it was used by Japanese dorks as they tended to be rather shy - a feature they have in common with dorks the world over. The use of otaku was particularly prevalent among videogamers, but then was hijacked by outsiders who used it in a mocking way. This use spread to passionate animé and manga fans, and eventually came to be simply Japanese for dork. When Westerners first picked up the word, many of them were animé and manga fans already, so quickly used it self-referentially.
In the West, otaku refers to someone who is especially interested in animé and manga. This is the easiest form of 'dorkdom' to conceal, and also the most damning if it leaks to the local jocks. Otaku are quite willing to spend large sums of money to get entire animé series on DVD and are very critical of American dubbing and editing. Otaku also tend to be quite into most other Asian pop culture, albeit to a lesser extent, especially Korean gangster movies and Hong Kong kung fu movies. The easiest ways to offend an otaku are to get confused between China and Japan, to refer to animé as cartoons, and to think that animations and comics are for children. They often take martial arts classes.
A study of otaku at the University of Texas found that a surprising 30% of otaku did not know what the word meant, though they gave some inspired guesses including 'a shrimp dish.' One would expect such people to at least know what the word meant, but this fact has fuelled criticism from one faction of animé fans that otaku only refers to fanboys and not true fans. Others condemn this faction as being full of rubbish.
Dweebs - they can belong to any category of dork, but do not want to be. They are generally people who have been ostracised for some supposed reason or other by mainstream society and taken in by the dorks. However, for some reason they want to be cool, even (perhaps especially) if a passionate desire to be so was what made them a dweeb in the first place. Dweebs are generally looked down on by both jocks and dorks, but dorks are more willing to accept them.
Gamer People - these have an especially great interest in videogames. Once considered a discrete category, the increased popularity of videogames has to an extent depreciated these people to a mere subset of nerds, and occasionally geeks.
Retro Gamer - a subset of gamer who is especially into older videogame consoles, such as the SNK Neo Geo, NES, and Master System. They generally dislike modern videogames for being too concerned with graphics and not enough with gameplay, constantly bemoan the loss of 'the good old days' when games actually presented a challenge and the industry was not so quick-to-profit led and games were cheaper. While they have a point, they often do not realise that there are still good games being released, or that even in the 'old days' there were plenty of poor games.
Role-Players - a subset of geeks who are particularly into role-playing games. They are generally referred to as 'gamers' but this entry shall refer to them as role-players in order to differentiate them from the other type of gamer.
Martialist - a subset of otaku who is more into martial arts movies than animé. They dislike almost all of Jackie Chan's Hollywood movies.
Fanboy - generally a subset of otaku or gamer, but occasionally a geek or nerd, who is so much into a specific 'title' that they often cannot see the good side of other things. Such a title may be a book, movie, videogame, comic, or indeed practically anything. The fanboys of a few titles are so insanely devoted to them that they have their own individual words, such as 'trekkies' (Star Trek) and 'X-philes' (The X Files)
Trekkers - they are 'into' Star Trek to the detriment of everything else. A trekkie knows the exact technical specifications and abilities of the Enterprise, can speak fluent Klingon, and often wear 'Spock' ears.
Anorak - this is a fanboy who is so into their chosen subject that it has taken over their life. Anoraks were originally identified by their tendency to wear (you guessed it) anoraks. Often they live with their parents until the age of thirty, and enjoy trainspotting.
Bookworm - named after a type of insect common in libraries, a bookworm is a geek who is especially into books, as the name suggests. Dorks of all types enjoy reading and so you may be tempted to think of a Tolkien anorak as a bookworm. However, this is not the case - a bookworm specifically refers to one who is into classical literature such as the works of Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters. Those who are not necessarily into classical literature but still read a lot are simply known as bookish types. The name bookworm generally has never had negative connotations; proud parents originally used it as a term of affection for a particularly studious child.
Comic Book Fan - this is a subset of geeks and refers to someone who is especially into comics. Though the general perception is that comics are for children, geeks do not see it that way. They do not buy the better-known comics such as the Beano, Superman, or Spiderman as they do indeed believe that comics such as those are for children and that DC has difficulty coming up with good characters, and Marvel has run out of stories. In fact, the only really well-known comics that geeks regularly enjoy are Judge Dredd and Spawn.
Digi-Dudes - these are nerds who are extremely good with computers and also known as digi-guys. There are two sub-divisions - hackers who write programmes for the sheer enjoyment of it and crackers who attempt to access files they are not supposed to. An estimated 95% of the world's population is unaware of the difference between hackers and crackers. Whereas with old systems such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, anyone interested could code to their heart's content, the relatively recent rise of Windows has resulted in a situation where an individual almost needs a university degree in programming to become a hacker.
Brainiac - dorks that are especially into facts and figures and are often confused with the teacher's pet. In reality, the brainiac is simply someone who loves gathering information and storing it in his or her brain - whether it is science, history, geography, computer programming, or any other subject. They are the people to seek out if you need help with that last-minute project. They are a good person to have on your team in a pub quiz. They are also known as krelboynes and boffs (an abbreviation of boffins).
Teacher's Pet - a dork, generally a dweeb, who sucks up to the teacher for whatever reason. The rest of the class likes them about as much as they like the teacher. In more recent times they have found work in offices and become known as bosses' pets.
Conspiracy Theorist - generally also an X-phile, this breed of dork believes that there is a huge government conspiracy to keep us all from learning what's really going on. They range from nuts that believe The X Files and The Matrix are real, to rational individuals who believe that there is something not quite right with the world. The assassination of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is of particular interest to conspiracy theorists, and over the years they have assembled many varied theories to explain what really happened and why.
People Who are Wrongly Mistaken for Dorks
Jock - this is a sports freak and anti-dork. Jocks place great emphasis on physical fitness and almost always look down on dorks, particularly the bookish ones. They are occasionally referred to as sports-dorks although this term is inaccurate. Some would even call it an oxymoron. When backed by clones, they can be fierce bullies, but they are unlikely to be expelled from school as they are often excellent sports people.
Sport Nerd - a dweeb with a huge interest in sport who collects all facts, figures, statistics and data they can lay their hands on regarding sport and sports people; however they are not generally much good at their chosen sport. They could tell you the batting average of Darryl Strawberry, or the total number of free kicks David Beckham has scored, but would often have little idea of how to operate a computer beyond simple word-processing programmes. They are looked down upon by jocks for their dweeby qualities and by dorks for wasting valuable synapses on sport.
Teeny/Tweenyboppers - teenyboppers are generally girls aged 13 to 17 and tweeny boppers aged nine to 12. They are unaware that pop groups mime, think Westlife play their own instruments and may have never even heard of The Beatles. Age is inversely proportional to the probability that they will dress like Christina Aguilera. They know the most intimate details of celebrity's lives and all claim to be their number one fan. One would be hard pressed to find a dork who does not dislike teenyboppers, or who would not kill all tweenyboppers if given a chance. Male teeny/tweenyboppers are rare but do exist. They are categorised by largely the same phenomena as their female counterparts, but do not scream as much and tend to simply go for brand-name clothes.
Over-40 Teenyboppers - these women, in a desperate attempt to appear younger, dress up like 14 and 15-year-olds, even though most 14 and 15-year-olds are attempting to appear older.
The male variant of this specimen lusts after teenage pop stars and exhibits many of the characteristics of the younger versions.
Fashion and Sports
The common perception of dorks is that of adolescent males who wear white or checked shirts with pocket protectors in case their pens explode in their breast pockets, sensible trousers, brogues, ties and thick glasses and always carry calculators. This is not true. While some dorks may indeed wear such items, they are generally employed in offices where such a dress code is required. Otherwise they simply eschew fashionable clothes in favour of comfort. While it is not uncommon to see dorks wearing brand-name clothes, they do not make a point of it. They view clothes as nothing more than things that cover bodies and provide warmth, occasionally dressing up for special occasions. They will also frequently wear T-shirts bearing images of their favourite titles - this is particularly true of otaku.
As for the glasses, many dorks do indeed wear them but no more than non-dorks. This myth is believed to have originated back in the 1950s to 1980s when glasses were big, thick, horn-rimmed monstrosities. People who wore these tended to be shunned by the more popular cliques, forcing them to band together for mutual friendship and safety. They read a lot, and so enhanced their brains. People with glasses were less likely to be picked for sports teams, which is why they are generally (and often wrongly) perceived as being physically weak. The myth about dorks being poor fighters does contain a grain of truth. Dorks are generally peaceful by nature preferring to resolve a conflict with words or some form of brain activity rather than with violence.
The common perception of dorks is that they are sad recluses with absolutely no social lives. This is absolutely, clinically true - from the point of view of those who say it. This is because dorks are quite shy by nature, and generally prefer the company of a few good friends than a large crowd of fickle ones. Their reason is that a lot of people will put pressure on you to conform, and if you do not then you will be ostracised, and suffer the stigma attached to being an outsider. While almost everyone in a school feels like an outsider, dorks tend to be those who are viewed as outsiders by everyone. This is because of their refusal, with the exception of dweebs, to surrender to peer pressure. While many will not be friendly to you unless you act, look, and think a certain way, dorks believe that everyone should be accepted for who they are - hence the fact that other cliques want no part of them.
It may come as a surprise, but dorks are actually fairly sociable people. Otaku are particularly fond of other people and many prefer to watch animé in a club or with friends than alone. A study of otaku at the University of Texas found that going to plays, concerts and other live events was a favourite hobby of 48.3% of otaku and reading came out top at 81%. Gamers, meanwhile, almost universally prefer to play in groups, and RPGs are by their very nature social pastimes. Of course almost all dorks enjoy attending conventions where they can meet with a hell of a lot of other people.
Since they are the two most peaceful cliques/subcultures among humanity (especially teenagers) today, dorks tend to feel greatest affinity with goths; partly because goths have also been known to enjoy things such as comics and role-playing. However, where goths divide the world into themselves and the mundanes, dorks have a rather wider view. They tend to see themselves, goths, jocks, and clones. Jocks have already been described, and clones are simply people who both surrender to peer pressure, channel and perpetuate it. Dorks perceive them as being both mentally and physically very similar to each other and openly dislike them. This may seem to be in contrast to their generally accepting attitudes, but this is because clones are, to a large extent, not who they are but who the rest of society or peer group say they should be.
A convention is a place where dorks come from all over to talk about their interests, find out new stuff about them, meet the people involved and buy merchandise. This merchandise is often rare and may have been commissioned especially for the 'con', as dorks call it. There are many different types of conventions covering all aspects of dorkness; there are sci-fi cons, fantasy cons, animé cons, card game cons and many more. Unfortunately for gamers, most videogame cons are trade only - they are restricted to videogame designers, programmers, and marketers as well as reporters for videogame magazines. However, this has not stopped nerds from forming phoney companies in order to get in.
Dorks are very interested in comic books - as a matter of fact, they are arguably the greatest readers of comics on earth. Western comics are mainly the preserve of geeks, although nerds also tend to be partial to them. However, the comics they read are not mainstream and generally take the form of little known underground titles. In fact, the only widely-known comics popular with dorks are Spawn, Sandman and possibly Judge Dredd. Dorks are far more likely to read indie (geek slang for 'independent') comics, and those produced by publisher Slave Labour Graphics. They do not, however, totally ignore more mainstream ones such as Daredevil and Sandman. Daredevil has recently gained popularity due to the movie, but until then it was only known to dorks. For the most part, dorks dislike popular, mainstream comics, tending to view DC as unimaginative and Marvel as consistently repetitive. This does not apply to the less well-known ones where it is safer to take a risk; from a business point of view, a few hundred people going off an esoteric comic is minor compared to a few thousand going off a popular one. Otaku are mainly into manga by definition.
Dorks love to read, more so than many other cliques in the world. Preferred genres are what led originally to the division between geeks and nerds, with geeks loving fantasy - in particular The Lord of the Rings and the rest of Tolkien's tales of Middle Earth, while nerds prefer sci-fi - especially the Dune series by Frank Herbert. Other writers popular with geeks are Robert Jordan, Eric van Lustbader and David Gemmel. Nerds also like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, EE Doc Smith and Steven Baxter. Both geeks and nerds like 'science fantasy', a rare and difficult fusion of sci-fi and fantasy. Anne McCaffrey, Brian M Aldiss and Michael Moorcock are notable and popular 'sci-fan' authors.
As for other groups, the tastes of bookworms are what establish them as a separate splinter group. Manga is accepted as literature in Japan and western otaku would like very much to see the same thing happen in the western world. Comic book fans have similar attitudes. Gamers are often not very into books, but they still read often; what they like frequently reflects their favourite style of game. Roleplayers read voraciously, with the twin aims of being entertained and getting new material for their campaigns. Fanboys and anoraks are almost always reading about their chosen title, at least when they are not talking about it. Conspiracy theorists pore over every conspiracy, political science, and history book as well as newspaper clippings that they can get their hands on, with the aim of finding out the truth.
Though these are primarily the interest of gamers, practically everyone has played a videogame at some point in their lives. However, dorks, and especially nerds, are nowadays constantly bemoaning the loss of innovation and the business failure of Nintendo and Sega. The nerdiest gamers of all generally consider the SNK Neo Geo to be the best games console ever, citing power and gameplay as their reasons. Since this cost in the region of £200, most gamers consider the best console to be either Nintendo's SNES or Sega's Saturn (or occasionally Dreamcast). Nowadays, dorks are almost (though not completely) unanimous in their verdict that Nintendo is the best videogame and console developer, and that it is unfairly failing due to Sony and Microsoft appealing directly to pop culture with generic, technically impressive games, which catch the attention of dweebs as well. (Some say that the PlayStation never truly became mainstream, though this ignores studies which show the people actually spend more time on average playing games than watching TV). The result of this is that more games are made for Sony/Microsoft, so game developers pay less attention to Nintendo, resulting in a cycle of less games for Nintendo causing popularity to drop and more games developed for Sony and Microsoft... and the cycle keeps on going. Fortunately for Nintendo fans, the GameCube/Xbox situation in Japan is inverted and Nintendo is profiting, while Microsoft is losing money on the videogame market.
Role-playing basically consists of interactive storytelling. The way it works is a GamesMaster (GM; also known as Dungeon Master, or DM) and a group of players each sit around with players saying what their characters are doing and the GM telling them the consequences of their actions. They tend to use dice rolls a lot, but these may be used for the slightest action as in Dungeons and Dragons,, or they may be used basically as an independent arbitrator as in In Nominé. Dorks in general are avid roleplayers, particularly otaku (and roleplayers, obviously), who like nothing better than roleplaying their favourite animé characters on sites such as Go-Gaia. Geeks prefer the more traditional pencil-and-paper RPGs. Gamers dislike traditional ones, preferring the videogame equivalents such as the Final Fantasy games. Many even consider these to be true RPGs and the other forms to be merely pale imitations, despite the fact that the D+D format was the first in existence. Many dorks (especially role-players) also have insanely twisted, esoteric 'house rules' - special by-rules which they play by and use to scare off newbies.
This should not be confused with videogaming as it actually has much more in common with role-playing. Basically it is a catch-all term for various activities popular with dorks but which don't quite fit into mainstream society, and those which do not properly fit into any of the other categories. One example of gaming is the tabletop wargames Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and The Lord of the Rings Risk. These are manufactured by the hugely successful Games Workshop, but a growing number of geeks now consider GW to be the Microsoft of gaming - ie, too big, overpriced, and almost has a monopoly on gaming in general. For this reason, increasing numbers have switched to the extremely cheap stuff made by Steve Jackson Games; which is ironic considering Steve Jackson was one of the co-founders of GW. He was also once kicked out of a bar for moshing too hard. Many games manufactured by SJG come in small packets and utilise nothing more expensive than coloured and printed bits of paper. Many of them, such as Cube Farm, require a surprising amount of strategy and intelligence to play. SJG is also responsible for some RPGs such as In Nomine
Gaming also encompasses collectable card games such as Magic. This was the very first one and is still going strong, with a few sub-games in it such as Magic: Antiquities and Magic: The Gathering. Many popular television and book series have attempted to break into the collectable card game market, with card games based on Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Neither of these were very successful - most of these types of games aren't. Animé is the exception - thanks to the fanaticism of otaku, there are a huge number of collectable card games based on animé and manga, such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! - both of which are doing great business.
Collectable card games differ from traditional ones in a number of ways. First and foremost, each card has many different statistics such as attack, defence, armour, magic, movement, and intelligence (though few games include all of these). Each card also carries a large picture of the warrior, animal monster or magic spell it represents. Collectable card games are generally for two players only, and are sold in 'starter packs' (about €15-€25 each, containing a lot of cards and a rule book) and 'booster packs' (about €3-€10 each, contain in the region of ten cards), and each player attempts to collect as many cards as they can to build up a powerful, personal deck. This deck should ideally contain lots of stratagems and combinations to make the players' cards more powerful. Collectable card games have thousands of different cards, which means that no two decks are ever quite alike. Since players regularly buy booster packs to augment their own cards, it could even be said that no two games will ever be alike.
Television and Films
In many cases, dorks are united in what films they like. Otaku, obviously, are very into the latest animé releases as well as Hong Kong kung fu titles; as already mentioned, they tend to despise Jackie Chan'sHollywood roles. However, many nerds and geeks are also quite into these - though admittedly it is generally only otaku who spend upwards of €300 on DVDs to have the complete series of something like Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Other movies popular with dorks are the Matrix, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey and many other sci-fi and fantasy flicks. However, dorks can be quite discerning and often hate a lot of stuff which other people say is average to good. They especially hate comic book adaptations, citing deviations from plot, character inaccuracies, and simply poor acting as the main flaws. The one genre they despise more than anything else is the teen movie - as far as dorks are concerned, these are dull, stupid, generic, and promote worship of beautiful, sub-dressed, popular, mainstream, normal people, and the need to either persecute, make fun of, or at best change dorks, goths, and other people who do not fit this bill.
Another series popular with dorks is View Askew, better known as the 'Jay and Silent Bob' films. This is partially because Kevin Smith, who created them and played Silent Bob, is himself a dork of all disciplines, and because they are absolutely hilarious with few redeeming moral values. They consist of Clerks, Mall Rats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Dorks' television likes and dislikes are rather more varied. Otaku like animé above all else, although they hate the amount of editing that goes into it, frequently going as far as to re-dub it themselves in a process called 'fandubbing'. Many fandubs are of surprisingly high quality and are generally enjoyed not only by otaku, but also geeks and nerds - sometimes to a greater extent than mainstream (as in produced by actual Japanese companies, using professional actors) animé; after all, there is something satisfying about hearing your own voice come out of your favourite character's mouth.
As for nerds and geeks, the sci-fi and fantasy rule is pretty solid here. Nerds tend to prefer sci-fi such as Star Trek, Stargate SG-1 and Babylon 5, whereas geeks like fantasy such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. However, this division is not perfect, as a majority of nerds and geeks watch all of these shows regularly. Both camps tend to enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. There are exceptions to this, most noticeably Castlevania fanboys.
When talking about music, gamers and otaku are primarily into the soundtracks to their favourite games or series. Nerds and dorks, meanwhile, tend to be mostly into classic rock such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, as well as later stuff such as Black Sabbath, Mettallica and Nirvana. They dislike modern pop groups for largely the same reasons they dislike teen movies.
Many dorks have something of an interest in the occult, though generally not to a dangerous extent - they rarely take it seriously. Most of them simply use it to spice up their role-playing sessions. Even those who do take it seriously do not go as far as Satanism - that tends to be reserved for more normal people looking for a release from dull, consumer-driven lives. Though often sceptical, dorks will occasionally indulge in the use of tarot, palmistry, or arithmancy. Magick, angelology and demonology are the areas of the occult of greatest interest to dorks, especially role-players, for obvious reasons.
So there it is, the truth about dorks. Remember, they are real people and have real feelings (though they may consider clones not to), and should be treated as equals. Therefore, next time you get the urge to call someone a dork, be aware that any real dork may be offended. On the other hand, you may be paying them a huge compliment. And above all, don't forget that a lot of the best things in the modern world (such as computers, technology, and medical science) are the result of years of work on behalf of dorks. To a certain extent, many of the world's problems are the result of jocks - would Hitler (to pick an extreme example) have been so evil if he was not so intent on punishing those different from him? Dorks are a necessary part of our society; so before you decide to criticise or laugh at one, please consider the fact that without them you would not be able to read this.