Nerd is a term that may be used with pride, or one that may be used in a derogatory sense. A nerd is typically a person of any race who has strong aptitude in the sciences, math, and particularly computer science, and who may also be viewed as out of step with popular culture in matters of dress, or who is socially awkward. The designation of nerd may simply be applied to a person whose uniqueness sets them apart from what is considered the "norm," for no particular reason at all. The term is first mentioned in the Dr. Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo, which was published in 1950.
From the 1950s onward, use of the term nerd increased, though drip, square, and egghead may have been more popular as synonyms to describe nerds. It’s not clear how much the television series Happy Days contributed to overall culture in the US and elsewhere, but it did bring the term into tremendous usage by the average person, since it was used so often in the series. Since Happy Days, most people understand the term nerd as that described in the previous paragraph.
Sometimes people seek to modify the name, and add other descriptions to nerds. For instance science nerds are people most skilled at science, while music nerds may be those people in high school and junior high or middle school who devote most of their free time to music. Both types of nerds tend to express high math skills; there is a strong connection between musical ability and mathematical prowess.
As first used in Happy Days the term was anything but flattering. It emphasized the social awkwardness of people and made some suggestion that interest in science or math was something to be ashamed of. Some famous former nerds have certainly proved the lie of this assumption. Bill Gates, now one of the richest men on the planet, used his science nerd skills to great effect, and perception about being interested and innovative in the sciences now may be viewed with positivism rather than with censure. Many nerds and non-nerds alike aspire to the Bill Gates path.
There are also some interesting studies connecting high functioning Asperger’s, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and high functioning autism to nerdism. By nature, people with these conditions tend to have extreme trouble in social situations, and may misunderstand others’ language, range of expression and things like sarcasm, facial expression and vocal inflection. Yet, such folks also tend to be extremely adept in the sciences. This suggests that discrimination focused on nerds may truly be discrimination against several recognized learning disabilities and gives people pause as to whether using the term in a derogatory fashion is by nature extremely insulting.
On the other hand, there are now many kids who think being a nerd is something to aspire to. For a while, fashion embraced “nerd chic.” Some teachers and educators wish they could do more to inspire students to become nerds, but if true nerdiness is predicated on learning disability, this may not be possible. There is, however, growing respect for this skilled and invaluable member of society, reflected in things like Spain’s Nerd Pride Day, which has been celebrated since 2006.