I can hear them in the next room, their voices carrying over the frenetic clicks of video-game controllers: near gibberish about the intricacies of fighting games and the button and joystick sequences employed to inflict the most damage, a short debate about pepperoni, Thor jokes, horse laughs and taunts.
Right now, my house has a serious infestation of nerds. And I ought to know: For a few months in the fifth grade, I carried my books to school in a briefcase.
Of course, it’s not the same thing. Everybody’s a nerd these days. We’ve got pop stars, professional athletes and hot women on Instagram — the very antithesis of the nerd tribe — professing to be nerds. Nerddom itself has Balkanized into subsets: comic-book nerds, sports nerds, video-game nerds, cosplay nerds, theater nerds.
But I’m here to remind everybody that being a nerd used to mean one thing. And that one thing could get you shoved in a locker.
Nerds, as a phenomena, began in the 1950s, when it was a term roughly analogous to “square” or maybe “hoople.” In the 1960s and ’70s it began to be applied to bookish, awkward kids at elite universities. And then it became sort of a catchphrase in the show “Happy Days,” and all bets were off.
I came into nerd-dom in a sort of Silver Age, when the Atari 2600 had just come out, comic books were starting to get really good and Dungeons & Dragons was still sort of new. But we suffered for these vices — and for Tolkien, “Star Trek,” the marching band, the Sherlock Holmes club at school — in wedgies and noogies and, yes, the occasional shove into a locker or, perhaps, the girls’ room.
But these nerds here in my house… these nerds don’t understand any of it. And they don’t care. It’s the first week of summer vacation, they’ve got three TVs hooked up to three separate PlayStations and the call for more pizza has already been made.
And I suppose that’s the way it ought to be. If they had to worry about being nerds now, all those swirlies we took back in the day would have meant nothing.