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I love hearing etymological anecdotes. This has been floating around today:

he first documented case of “geek” dates all the way back to 1916.  At the time, the term was used to describe sideshow freaks in circuses.  Specifically, it was typically attributed to those circus performers who were known for doing crazy things like biting the heads of various small live animals or eating live insects and the like.  These performances were often called “geek shows”.  The word itself, “geek”, came from the word “geck”, which was originally a Low German word which meant someone who is a “fool/freak/simpleton”.

The first documented case of “nerd” was in Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo, in 1950.  The specific text was: “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too”. It was just one year after the Dr. Seuss book, in 1951 in a Newsweek magazine article, that we find the first documented case of “nerd” being used similarly to how we use it today.  Specifically, they used it as being synonymous with someone who was a “drip” or a “square”.

It’s from this blog. But it reminded me how much I love the NPR radio show You Have a Way With Words. I remember during one show some up tight teacher called half sarcastically to prove that her black students were stupid, claiming that they used “axe” instead of “ask”. According to the hosts “axe” was actually a more common pronunciation at one time. I wish I had a link to that specific episode, but I don’t. Instead: Check out the shows site at waywordradio.com

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