A friend of mine didn’t know the difference between a geek and a nerd. I was appalled and adamant that they were two different types of people so I decided to spill my thoughts here.
Okay first, they’re two completely different types of people, but they’re not mutually exclusive. One could be a nerd AND a geek. The thing to note is that both of them require a field. You can’t just label someone a nerd or a geek and let that be. That person has to be a nerd in something, like math, or a geek in something, like Star Wars. Usually the subject preceeds “geek” or “nerd” (i.e math nerd, Star Wars geek).
They do have stereotypical similarities; both are regarded as social outcasts and are typically not attractive. Perhaps in general social standings both the geek and the nerd have trouble relating to others, but when they’re engaged in their respective fields, they have no trouble connecting at all.
The key difference is that geeks are emotional on their subjects, whereas nerds are not. One eloquent way of putting it is that geeks have a “licence to emote”. They’re comfortable with themselves and with their subject enough to be overtly passionate about talking about it. Geeks are more likely to initiate a conversation on his/her subject first, while a nerds are more likely to talk only if someone talks to them.
Nerds are very intelligent and know a lot about their subject. I mean a LOT. Ask a nerd anything and he’ll probably be able to tell you more than you need or want to know. Nerds tend to appear more in academic subjects like math and science.
Geeks may or may not be able to tell you the answer, but either way they’ll be very happy to talk to you about the subject. Geeks are more well know for their passion in games and comics, going as far as cosplaying their favourite character at Comic-Cons and portraying their character well.
There are some crossovers where someone is a nerd AND a geek in the same subject. Take me for example. I love the trading card game (TCG) Magic: the Gathering (MTG) and I’m officially a Rules Advisor for the game (I took the official rules test 10+ times before I hit the passing grade of 80%). I know a lot about card rulings and can almost always work my way out of a rules mess. My friends almost always turn to me to confirm rulings and to settle disputes. This is my nerd side of MTG. My geeky side is for the Planeswalker Jace. I absolutely revere him. I’m not shy to say so and show my passion for the game as well.
I think nerds are just closet geeks. Geeks have a lot of self confidence and don’t much care what others might think of their passion/obsession. Nerds probably put in just as much work immersing themselves in their subject, but generally lack self confidence.
Every job should aim for a balance between the nerd and the geek; work would be a lot more fun. Match the pursuit of knowledge from the nerd with the shameless passion of a geek and we’ll have a pretty enthusiastic and smart person, always willing to learn and share about his/her subject.