January 9th is Word Nerd Day. And if you go and research it, you'll most likely find - as I did - that though lots of folks list it as a holiday on their blogs and what-have-you, there isn't one single site that explains its existence, or origin, or anything. It seems that somebody just up and submitted it to Chase's Calendar of Events, and the good people there decided it was a great addition to their list of festivities, and voila! a holiday is born.
Whether it has a long and storied history (uh-uh) or a rather unspectacular back story (yup) makes no nevermind to me. What Word Nerd Day does do, is give me the excuse to talk about words. Not that I need one. But having a questionably valid excuse to do so is better than having no excuse at all.
So, where did this word, "nerd" come from? The earliest documented appearance of "nerd" in print came from none other than that most venerable Sage of Silliness: Dr. Seuss. I'll prove it. Go and dig out your beloved-and-quite-possibly-well-worn-copy of his 1950 book, If I Ran the Zoo. Flip to page 47, and you will see these words:
And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-TrooAnd bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo,a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!
You'll also see this:
But there isn't any other lexical explanation. The Sage of Silliness leaves the reader to his or her own devices there. It seems that, in the book, it was more of a name for a particular species of animal-person-thing, akin to "bear," or "alligator," rather than a description of a certain type of individual.
Then, the October 8, 1951 issue of Newsweek (page 28) wrote of its popular use as a synonym for "a drip" or "a square" in Detroit, Michigan. By the early 1960's, "nerd" was in common use nationwide in the United States, and had even hopped the pond to Scotland, where the Glasgow, Scotland Sunday Mail included the word in its regular column "ABC for Squares," defining "nerd" as "a square -- any explanation needed?"
Now, let's jump ahead to today, where - while "nerd" still clings to its initial geeky meaning - it has also morphed into somewhat of a badge of honor; one who is accomplished in and/or obsessed by whatever field the word is attached to, such as: computer nerd, science nerd, gamer nerd, art nerd, comic book nerd, music nerd, or my personal favorite...word nerd.
Blogger and novelist Wolf Gnards offers his definition of "word nerd" on his writing blog:
A Word Nerd is anyone who loves the written language and isn't afraid to admit it: be it literary classics or this month's Spider-Man comic.
Which brings us back to Word Nerd Day. And so, to celebrate those folks who love all things wordy or literary or bookish in any way, here are a few Websites You May Want to Wander To:
- Word Nerd - Bethany Warner's blog, whose slogan is: "No pocket protectors here; just don't break the spines on books." She she blogs about books and writing and such, and refers to herself in her postings as "Word Nerd."
- The Word Nerds - A site dedicated to "words, language, and why we say the things we do." Though the site ceased publishing weekly podcasts in April 2009, it still has an active forum that keeps the wordy ways and discussions alive.
- Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon Fogarty is your host for this most useful website. If you have any questions about using the English language in any way, chances are you can find the answers you need right there, or in her book. And, Grammar Girl is on Twitter.
- Martha Brockenbrough - Author of books for kids and adults alike, she is a humor columnist, blogger, and one who can find the "funny" in the often staid world of grammar. You can find Martha on Twitter, as well.
- Wordnik.com - An online dictionary - launched in June 2009 - that is anything but ordinary. It is a database of (at last count) over 4 billion words gathered from such varied sources as multiple dictionaries, websites, books, magazines and newspapers. CEO Erin McKean points out that this site will give you not only definitions in text, but also relevant Flickr images, Twitter search matches, and user-contributed tags and comments. The site invites users to submit words, too. And, wordnik Tweets with the best of them.
Happy, happy Word Nerd Day, fellow word-lovers! May your day be deliciously lexical!