A friend of mine at work, Julian, is from Mexico, so English is his second language. You'd never know it, for the most part, since he's able to deploy puns and other forms of wordplay like he's been doing it all his life, but once in awhile he's tripped up by an unfamiliar word. Specifically, the word "geeky," which I used to describe our mutual Star Wars obsession.
I tried to define it, which led to a larger discussion among our coworkers, but I'm not sure we quite nailed it on the head to Julian's satisfaction. "So how is a geek different from a nerd?" he asked, and we couldn't really put it into words.
That whole conversation stayed with me for awhile, as I pondered the different contexts in which we deploy the term "geek." It's not a flattering term; after all, it comes from carny lingo. And even carnies probably managed to nail the occasional backwoods slut, whereas geeks in the modern parlance tend to be seen as social outcasts, if not downright asexual.
Yet many fringe-dwellers don't mind deploying the term to describe themselves. There are self-proclaimed Star Wars geeks and Tolkien geeks and comic book geeks and computer geeks. It gets trotted out to describe anyone with a more than casual knowledge of almost any subject: music geek, theater geek film, geek.
But do you ever heard of a sports geek? Sports fans, sure, even super fans or, in extreme cases, fanatics. But geeks? Nah, come on, this is sports, buddy, this is manly stuff, not some sissy boy dragons-and-princesses crap.
Really, though, is there any difference between the Red Sox fan claiming they would have won the '75 World Series if only Bill Lee hadn't tossed that space ball in Game Seven and Star Wars fans debating whether Greedo spoke Rodese or Huttese? They both exist on the same level of obsession, and carry the same level of passion. The danger, in both cases, is that this obsession, this passion, can become too intense, carry with it a level of I'm-right-you're-wrong certainty that makes civil discussion impossible, resulting in either the barely veiled xenophobia common to sports radio or flame wars on web sites.
There's nothing wrong with digging deeper into subjects of interest. Hey, that's what this whole site is about. (As those of you who've endured numerous Richard Thompson clips or endless posts about Vincente Minnelli know all too well.) Sometimes people become so obsessed with something, they want to claim it as their very own, and will tolerate no dissenting opinions. I love me some Star Wars and Godzilla and Chuck Jones cartoons, and these things enhance my existence, and help make me what I am. But they're not all I am.
Okay, except for the Chuck Jones cartoons. Say anything bad about Feed The Kitty and you're my enemy forever.