I’ve been called many things in my life- not all of them pleasant. But one term I refuse to let myself be put down by is “nerd”. It’s made me wonder- why in our culture are we shamed because we unironically and unashamedly love things? 

 

Definitions of ‘nerd’ varies but they usually fall into one or two categories- “someone who cares only about being smart” (Naomi Vijayakumar, 15), or “a person who is into a particular subject but super intensely” (Maya Robertson, 14). Even though there is plenty to say about the former- the way, as a culture, we have decided that a love for learning is bad while simultaneously forcing ‘smart kids’ to be seen as friendless and ugly (from the Cambridge dictionary: “a person... who is not attractive and is... socially embarrassing”) just because they care about their grades- it's the latter definition used in a derogatory way that I have a real problem with. 

 

I did a survey of 27 of my friends, and whilst 14.8% said that there could be something wrong with being a nerd, 70.3% said that they weren’t one themselves- even though some of them freely admit to having many obsessions that they enjoy because they “find them fun and relaxing and have met good friends through these activities” (Lily Carter, 15, who does not identify as a nerd). However, these reasons are amongst many I have for my interests. If you ask me what I'm ‘into’, I have a list. I love musical theatre- I adore Hamilton and Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen- the list goes on. I love QI and No Such Thing As A Fish. If you want to know about His Dark materials or Percy Jackson- come to me. I would probably die for Sandi Toksvig or Lin Manuel Miranda. I love these things because they are outstanding achievements of the human existence, because they make me laugh and cry, because when I am surrounded by them, I feel at home. I will always love the Hamilton soundtrack, I will always cry during Dear Evan Hansen, I will always feel comforted by the words of The Northern Lights, the accent of Dan Schriber, the first notes of Bad Idea. But I’m not an exception. These things that I love so much are loved equally by thousands of people worldwide. In the simplest words, I love what I love because they’re fun and relaxing and I have made good friends doing them. But my unbridled passion is shamed and made fun of. Why? 

 

Why is being a nerd seen as uncool or wrong? Why would Hannah Qureshi, 14, say “I would only really call someone a nerd as a joke”? Why don’t nerds ‘fit in’ to the norm- whatever that norm is? In Paul Graham’s essay on the subject, he says “Nerds aren't losers. They're just playing a different game [as opposed to school, which he argues promotes empty hierarchies], and a game much closer to the one played in the real world. Adults know this. It's hard to find successful adults now who don't claim to have been nerds in high school.” But I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s because nerds would rather devote time and become intensely interested in a subject that they enjoy, even if it subverts the norm, and this is seen as different, and wrong. Despite this, everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed passions and interests outside of what they discuss at school. So, I think it’s not because the ‘popular people’ are rude or make assumptions that nerdiness gets outcast, but because there simply isn’t enough space for everyone’s nerdiness and people clump together into simpler groups. You could say that the ‘popular people’ are nerds themselves, but their number means nobody else questions their interest. In this way nerds are brave, defying a social system that has blindsided them because they are individuals or small groups. Is it therefore any wonder that they are seen to “lack social skill[s]” (Emily De Backer, 15) or “don’t engage in social activities” (Anjola Olumoroti, 14)? 

 

Aside from bravery in standing up to the norm, why should we all be nerdier? This is a topic I'm passionate about, as I feel that my interests have fundamentally changed me as a person. Would I have become more open to Maths and STEM subjects if I had not had my eyes opened by QI? Would I have not wanted to be a writer if it wasn’t for Phillip Pullman? Would I have discovered new depth for feeling if it wasn’t for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and the insurmountable excitement I felt when Andrew Hunter Murray called me “brilliant”? Would I have met one of my best friends in the world if we were not equally obsessed with all the above? We find communities by sharing values and passions, wherein we discover friends for life. We unlock new sides of ourselves, creativity which drives us to do amazing things- how many artists started by making fanart, and how many writers from fanfiction? Would Hamilton have happened if its creator was not so deeply moved by Les Misérables? We have the capacity to feel deeply, and passionately, and do amazing things, and this should be celebrated, not mocked. 

 

Ultimately, that’s my message. By being a nerd, you celebrate human achievement; beauty in art and words and everything in between. But doing so is what makes us innately human, our ability to feel and love to such an endless degree, and to see the world in the full depths of colour. Without it there would be no life worth living. In the words of Hank Green- "Love things. By yourself, or with others, and without fear." 

 

By Esther O’Neill (“Nerdy Legend”- Dan Schriber)