Welcome to "House Full of Nerds," a blog about living in a family with diverse and quirky interests. Like many blogs, it may evolve over time, as this is the first time I've attempted such a thing.
In my family, "nerd" is a positive self-identifier. My kids are so used to this that they are genuinely surprised when others' mental pictures of "nerds" are not as favorable, such as when my older daughter's Girl Scout troop wrote skits about stereotyping and the other girls who were portraying "nerds" showed up with thick glasses and out-of-date clothing. My daughter's solution was to loudly refuse to use the "nerd" props, correctly insisting that "I'm a nerd and I don't dress like that!" (The other troop leader and I tried to be more tactful, pointing out that since the intent of the skit was to teach younger girls not to stereotype, having the "nerds" look awkward and out of step was self-defeating.)
Admittedly, when I was my daughters' ages, I was more of a stereotypical nerd, at least somewhat fitting the first part of Merriam-Webster's definition of the word: "an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person." I like to say I fit the second part of the definition more accurately: "one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits," but it wasn't until around eighth grade when I finally began to embrace my nerd nature - I realized that wearing the same clothes and makeup as the other girls and having hair that obediently feathered wouldn't cause me to fit in any more effectively, so I might as well give it up and be who I was.
While neither of my daughters have ever been unattractive or socially inept, devotion to intellectual and academic pursuits are a big part of their lives, which is evident in my older daughter's definition of nerd: "a person who's smarter than the average dingo and who's not afraid to show it" (I was almost afraid to ask for her definition of dingo - it turns out it's the correct definition, but also a term she and some of her friends use when implying that someone is acting like an idiot.) This is the child who used to entertain herself on Saturday mornings by writing facts about foxes gleaned from her Animal Encylcopedia (Hey, as long as she let Mommy and Daddy sleep in, no problem!). Now fourteen, she balances high achievement in academics and the violin with a love of clothing and make-up. My eleven-year-old's more cryptic definition is "someone who isn't all defensive if they're called a nerd and is awesome." She observed her school's "favorite sports team" day recently by wearing a Godzilla shirt and likes to draw comics and build junk robots with her dad in her spare time.
Neither my husband nor I are as quick to define "nerd" as our offspring, probably because of the way the definition has evolved since our youth (get a clue, Merriam-Webster!). Quick to master all things mechanical and technical, my husband was an early computer nerd who spent his teen years in the country and took me target shooting on one of our first dates. His acquisition of junk for robot parts has recently evolved into a fascination with typewriters. I try hard to understand his explanations of technology, but my eyes glaze over and my thoughts wander to the NY Times crossword puzzle I'm completing (Thank you, Will Shortz!) or the book (yes, a physical book with pages that turn) I'm reading. My tastes run to biographies and history, especially history of medical or public health issues, but I enjoy a good novel, with Star Trek fan fiction being an occasional guilty pleasure.
Several years ago, I struggled to complete a beginning-of-year survey my younger daughter's teacher had given to parents: "What does your family enjoy doing together?" "Uh... we like to make fun of Mark Trail comics and talk about what we read in the newspaper...?" I ended up saying something about hiking together (still true, but now we have less time for that), going to museums (also true), and having the occasional family movie night (which we still do, but now it's Star Trek movies or "Galaxy Quest" instead of the latest Pixar offering, unless our girls are feeling nostalgic).
At moments of extreme nerdiness, such as pointing out a continuity problem in a Star Trek episode, we congratulate each other with the "nerd salute," invented by my brother-in-law (a shout-out to Michael!). This involves using one's index finger to push one's glasses up onto the bridge of the nose with a self-satisfied smirk. Being the only family member with perfect vision, my younger daughter felt left out until her sister got contacts; now they both have to push up imaginary glasses. The thing I love best about the nerd salute is that my friends who are nerds "get it" immediately and some of them have started using it, too. So perhaps it's unnecessary to define "nerd" because, like pornography, we can recognize it when we see it.