New YouGov data confirms “nerd” is no longer much of an insult, and for many young people it’s a compliment
Judging by the popularity of comic book films, tech culture and “geek chic”, nerd-dom has already made it into the mainstream. The latest research by YouGov adds to the evidence that today – at least among over-18s – “nerd” is not generally seen as a pejorative, and might even be considered a compliment.
Overall, only one in five British adults would be unhappy if people thought of them as a nerd. Roughly the same number (22%) would in fact be happy to be seen as nerdy, while the majority (54%) of the population wouldn’t have much feeling either way.
The public is also split down the middle on whether it’s cool or uncool to be considered a nerd – 30% take either view, while 40% say they don’t know.
There is a clear generational divide on the connotations of nerdiness. By 35 to 16, under-40s say they would be happy to be thought of as nerds, while over-40s would be unhappy by 23 to 15.
Under-40s are also more likely to say it’s cool to be considered a nerd, by 39 to 27, while over-40s say it’s uncool by 32 to 25.
Etymologists say the word "nerd" began appearing in 1950s America, but its precise origins are unclear. However the Google Ngram Viewer, which traces word uses in books over the past century, suggests it wasn't until the 1980s that the word became popular in print.