A geek is a person who is fascinated, perhaps obsessively, by obscure or very specific areas of knowledge and imagination, usually electronic or virtual in nature. Geek may not always have the same meaning as the term nerd (see nerd for a discussion of the disputed relation between the terms).
The word "geek" originates with side-show "circus geeks" — performers at carnivals who swallow various live animals and bugs (zoology). Sometimes this extends to biting off the heads of chickens. The geeks, historically, would usually perform in a "geek pit". This pit was usually actually a cage. The circus geek was usually a former circus performer that had been injured, and later lost his job. Because of the "crippledness" of the entertainer, they would not be able to find work and would become homeless and desperate, therefore becoming this circus sideshow just to stay alive. After the geek would bite off the animal's neck they would pluck all its feathers and eat the entire animal including all its bones except for one. The geek would throw the single bone out into the audience and say "I may be the geek but you are the freaks". Geeks would consider people who would pay for such horror as animals themselves, therefore this saying became well known, and certainly did not stop audiences from coming to see the sideshow. This sense of the word dates back to as far as the late 1800s, and possibly comes from the 16th century word geck, originally of Middle Saxon origin. In English the precursor word "geck" or "gecke" was used by Shakespeare: "Why have you suffer'd me to be imprison'd, kept in a dark house, visited by the priest, and made the most notorious geck and gull That e'er invention play'd on?" (Twelfth Night, V.i). The word is also thought to appear in Cymbeline (wordorigins.org).
The definition of geek has changed considerably over time, and there is no definite meaning. The social and rather derogatory connotations of the word makes it particularly difficult to define.The difference between the terms "geek" and "nerd" are widely disputed, as the latter might be identified as someone who is intelligent, and the former as someone who has an unusual eccentricity towards a certain category or topic. Below are some definitions of the word; all are still in use to varying degrees.
A person who is interested in technology, especially computing and new media. Comparable with the classic definition of hacker. (Late 20th century and early 21st century.)
A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance. Geeks usually have a strong case of neophilia (a love of novelty and new things). Most geeks are adept with computers and treat hacker as a term of respect, but not all are hackers themselves — and some who are in fact hackers normally call themselves geeks anyway, because they regard "hacker" as a label that should be bestowed by others rather than self-assumed.
A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest. This definition is very broad, and allows for mathematics geeks, aviation geeks, band geeks, Computer geeks, science geeks (including, among others, physics, chemistry, and biology geeks), music geeks, movie and film geeks (cinephile), comics geeks, theatre geeks, history geeks, gamer geeks, linguistics geeks, SCA geeks (SCAdians), public transit geeks (metrophiles), literature geeks, anime and manga geeks (otaku), Star Wars geeks, Star Trek geeks (Trekkies and Trekkers, the latter noted for costuming), Tolkien or fantasy geeks. (Late 20th century and early 21st century.)
G.E.E.K., as an acronym, reputedly came from the United States Military; it stands for General Electrical Engineering Knowledge. It is unclear if this was the origin of the current meaning for geek, or if the acronym was used as a humorous reference toward the pre-established meaning for geek (i.e., a backronym).
A derogatory term for one with low social skills, regardless of intelligence. Similar to common use of the word dork. (Late 20th century.)
A performer at a carnival who swallows various live animals and bugs. See etymology above.
A person who rejects society, yet is involved in it. (This is generally used to also mean someone with high intelligence.)
Reclaiming and self-identification
Geek has always had negative connotations within society at large, where being described as a geek tends to be an insult. The term has recently become less condescending, or even a badge of honor, within particular fields and subcultures; this is particularly evident in the technical disciplines, where the term is now more of a compliment denoting extraordinary skill. There is an increasing number of people who self-identify with the term, even when they don't fit the classic geek profile which emphasizes high intelligence but social isolation and loneliness as a result.
Because geek is no longer purely pejorative there are many self-labeled geeks who disagree over the use of the label. Similarly many older geeks in whatever field of devotion become upset when their field becomes popular and wish to set up standards that exclude late adopters or whole subjects of interest as not being truly "geeky". While in the past the dispute would not have been over use of the term "geek", this is not a new phenomenon by any means. There were loud disagreements in the 1960s and 1970s among sf fans over the use of sci-fi or science fiction, with some science fiction geeks trying to get sci-fi to be only used for what they defined as bad sf. Later there were fierce debates among geeks over the use of hacker and cracker and the adoption of "leet" speak by less technically adroit computer users.
Today geeks devoted to technical pursuits want to distinguish themselves from people they see as falsely holding themselves out to be intellectuals, in particular people who are most interested in the arts or entertainment as they can be approached more casually as opposed to techie subjects which require vast amounts of serious study and commitment, thus appearing more like work than a hobby to outside observers. Indeed, a trait of genuine geekhood is said to be workaholism. For the most part the general public and even most geeks are unaware of the distinction and would be likely to see the computer geek and the genre fandom geek as being more similar than dissimilar.
Many teenage and college students adopt the stereotypical outward traits of geeks in order to fit in with the so-called geek subculture. It has been observed that many of the classic eccentricities associated with geeks has been due to their social awkwardness and were thus naturally occurring instead of contrived behavior. However, in the recent decade, many geeks have cultivated for themselves a number of behavioral traits that one sports as an indication of being "in the know" and "out of the mainstream". These range from geek humor and obscure references to t-shirts sporting references to geek culture or interests. Many individuals (both male and female) cultivate personality quirks and eccentricities in an effort to avoid the dry, academic, no-nonsense stereotype associated with those in the intellectual, technical, and scientific fields (who historically have often been depicted as being quiet and reserved if not socially inept). While technical geeks are grudgingly acknowledged for being absorbed in a craft that at least has real life career potential, it is often argued that while not impossible, genre geeks who aspire to a profession in that genre (for example comic book artists and writers) are more likely to face the scenario where many are called but few are chosen. Nonetheless, the derogatory definition of geeks remains popularized as that of a person engrossed in his area of interest at the cost of social skills, personal hygiene, and the general responsibilities of adulthood such as having a steady job and one's own place to live. In North America, a commonly cited geek stereotype is the adult male who still lives in his parent's basement. Elements of the slacker culture have merged with the geek culture. The characters Jay and Silent Bob of Kevin Smith's Jersey movies are examples of self styled geeks who are adept at absorbing genre trivia but not particularly intelligent, educated, or productive otherwise.
Geeks on TV
Geeks have gained a cult status, and some TV programs have cashed in on this image. In 2006 the WB ran a reality game show called Beauty and the Geek, where "geeks" try to share their knowledge with "beauties" while trying to learn a modern style from them. Comedy Central ran a similar game show named Beat the Geeks from 2001 to 2002.