Geek: Word Origins

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The word geek has had various meanings over the last five centuries.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word geek as: 1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake, 2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked  3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity.

The word geek dates back to the 1500s and is a variant of the word geck – a term of Low German/Dutch origin, meaning fool, simpleton, or dupe. Alexander Barclay’s Certayne Eglogues of 1515 uses the word:  “Aiijb, He is a foole, a sotte, and a geke also Which choseth…the worst [way] and most of ieoperdie.”  In 1601, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night “Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d, Kept in a dark house, visited by a priest, And made the most notorious gecke and gull”.

In 1876, the modern variant of the word geek appears in Francis K. Robinson’s A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby: Gawk, Geek, Gowk or Gowky, a fool; a person uncultivated; a dupe.  In 1908, the word is cited in the American comic strip A. Mutt by H.C. Fisher: “A geek who spends his spare time making Czar removers was slammed into the city cooler.”

By the mid 1950s, the term geek lost any specific meaning in general slang used and was used simply as a defamatory label.  By the 1980s, geek was being used to refer to computer and  high-tech enthusiasts. The term has recently become more complimentary, or even a badge of honor in some fields. Technical support services such as Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” use the term to signify helpful technical abilities.  Read more…

Sources: Word OriginsTech Blog,  Wikipedia