I just finished my latest read, American Nerd: The Story of My People, which I pretty much enjoyed, but was surprised to learn from the book's definition that I was not a nerd. Imagine my astonishment to the bombshell that I was not in fact a nerd (intellectually and socially awkward in ways that strike people as machinelike or someone forced into nerd-dom by social exclusion, according to the book) but instead I was just a "socially awkward intellectual." Those jocks were really operating under a misconception about my social status in high school when they barked and threw trash at me!
The people who I considered nerds as a teen usually fit the stereotype completely: glasses, braces, acne, an unfortunate sense of personal style (or a complete lack thereof) and a strong desire to do extra science projects involving robots. I never considered myself a nerd because I had been a mediocre student and was a bit of a social butterfly at my previous school. Starting over someplace new made me shy, but I was definitely not a nerd. However, all it took was a newly acquired pair of glasses and an unsuccessful attempt at "cool" late 80's/early 90's mall hair to earn me my new moniker to the socially elite crowd: nerd!
Perhaps the worst part was that the actual nerds didn't accept me into their crowd either. While I enjoyed logging several hours on the old Nintendo, I had no interest in D&D, fantasy card games, or debating Star Trek episodes. A couple times I was invited to anime marathons at various friend's homes I found myself bored out of my mind or fighting to stay awake. I was a bad nerd.
Not fitting in anywhere, I kind of tried to keep my own course of steering clear of the extreme high school social stereotypes and just doing my own thing, like starting a slightly subversive zine, dying my hair weird colors, and joining the National Honor Society (it took being labeled a nerd to actually make me a good student). If I labeled myself anything back then, it was geek, which I felt was at least cooler than a nerd. To me a geek was someone who could just geek-out and obsess about music or books and still get laid, while a nerd was doomed to wedgies and self-love.
I thought there had been a difference, but then again maybe I was operating under a misconception too.