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toadspittle
11-12-2008, 09:42 AM
Just saw this article featuring interesting facts about some Dr. Seuss books. (http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/18659) But in it, the writer notes:

3. If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, is the first recorded instance of the word “nerd”.

This sounds highly dubious to me. Anyone out there with an OED that can verify/disprove?

toadspittle
11-12-2008, 09:44 AM
Hijack:

This item, however, I believe:

6. Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! ... Oh, and one other tidbit: this book contains the first-ever reference to “crunk”, although its meaning is a bit different than today’s crunk.

Frylock
11-12-2008, 10:01 AM
Just saw this article featuring interesting facts about some Dr. Seuss books. (http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/18659) But in it, the writer notes:



This sounds highly dubious to me. Anyone out there with an OED that can verify/disprove?


OED's first citation is from 1951:

1951 Newsweek 8 Oct. 28 In Detroit, someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd. 1957 Sunday Mail (Glasgow) 10 Feb. 11 Nerda square. 1971 Observer 23 May 36/3 Nerds are people who don't live meaningful lives. 1983 Truck & Bus Transportation July 129/1 When loose-brained nurds crack up the top arrangements of a man o' my calibre, I got no union t' thump them nurds with. 1993 Sci. Amer. Apr. 96/1 ‘Nerd’..is movie shorthand for scientists, engineers and assorted technical types who play chess, perhaps, or the violin. 2002 Chicago Tribune 20 Jan. IV. 7/1 Among Silicon Valley nerds, chip engineers..are the geekiest of all.

So if "nerd" really is in If I Ran the Zoo then you should give the OED folks a heads-up.

-FrL-

ETA Here's the passage from Zoo

"And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo/And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo/A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!"


Not clearly (indeed I think clearly not) a use of the same word "nerd" that's under discussion in this thread. So never mind on giving OED a heads-up.

friedo
11-12-2008, 10:09 AM
According to my American Heritage Dictionary which I have handy:

The word nerd, undefined but illustrated, first appeared in 1950 in Dr. Suess's If I Ran the Zoo: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo. A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" (The nerd is a small humanoid creature looking comically angry, like a thin, cross Chester A. Arthur.)

Nerd next appears, with a gloss, in the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail in a regular column entitled "ABC for SQUARES": "Nerd--a square, any explanation needed?" Many of the terms defined in this "ABC" are unmistakable Americanisms, such as hep, ick, and jazzy, as is the gloss "square," the current meaning of nerd.

The third appearance of nerd in print is back in the United States in 1970 in Current Slang: "Nurd [sic], someone with objectionable habits or traits....An uninteresting person, a 'dud.'"

Authorities disagree on whether the two nerds--Dr. Seuss's small creature and the teenage slang term in the Glasgow Sunday Mail--are the same word. Some experts claim there is no semantic connection and the identity of the words is fortuitous. Others maintain Dr. Suess is the true originator of nerd and that the word nerd ("comically unpleasant creature") was picked up by the five- and six-year-olds of 1950 and passed on to their older siblings, who by 1957, as teenagers, has restricted and specified the meaning to the most comically obnoxious creature of their own class, a "square."

Giles
11-12-2008, 10:10 AM
Not clearly (indeed I think clearly not) a use of the same word "nerd" that's under discussion in this thread. So never mind on giving OED a heads-up.
Even if it's not clearly the same word, it would be useful to be added to OED's database, partly because the current use of "nerd" may be derived from that Dr Seuss quotation. If I were researching the word for a dictionary, I'd be grateful for that citation.

(And I'd want it under the other nonce words, such as "preep" and "proo", in case they ever come into general usage.)

Ludovic
11-12-2008, 10:13 AM
What, you never heard that famous crunk song, "closer than my preeps you are to me"?

Exapno Mapcase
11-12-2008, 11:08 AM
Even if it's not clearly the same word, it would be useful to be added to OED's database, partly because the current use of "nerd" may be derived from that Dr Seuss quotation. If I were researching the word for a dictionary, I'd be grateful for that citation.

(And I'd want it under the other nonce words, such as "preep" and "proo", in case they ever come into general usage.)

The OED undoubtedly has this. It's in all modern dictionaries and the Online Etymology Dictionary shows it.
nerd
1951, U.S. student slang, probably an alteration of 1940s slang nert "stupid or crazy person," itself an alteration of nut. The word turns up in a Dr. Seuss book from 1950.
That also indicates that both Seuss and others may have picked up on the similar sounding term already in use.

You need to understand how far behind the OED is on modern terminology. They're prepping for a third edition that will be all electronic, but until that finally appears they're not a good source for recent etymology.

Dewey Finn
11-12-2008, 11:25 AM
I've seen some webpages that claim that the word was used in the 1960s or so at my alma mater, Rensselaer, but spelled nurd or knurd (i.e., drunk spelled backward).

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
11-12-2008, 11:28 AM
Seuss's nerd (http://www.ilovedrseuss.com/images/a-seuss-nerd.gif)

APB
11-12-2008, 11:30 AM
Even if it's not clearly the same word, it would be useful to be added to OED's database, partly because the current use of "nerd" may be derived from that Dr Seuss quotation. If I were researching the word for a dictionary, I'd be grateful for that citation.

Except that the OED is ahead of you on that one. It is true that the online version doesn't include the Dr Seuss reference as its earliest example, no doubt for the simple reason that it isn't actually an example of the word being used in that sense. But the entry does mention it as one of the possible origins under its discussion of the etymology.

Perhaps < nerd, a fictional animal in the children's story If I ran the Zoo (1950) by ‘Dr. Seuss’, depicted as a small, unkempt, humanoid creature with a large head and a comically disapproving expression. Alternatively, sometimes explained as a euphemistic alteration of TURD n. (see e.g. D. L. Gold in Comments on Etymol. (1983) 12 27), although given the predominance of early spellings in -e-, this seems unlikely. The suggestion that the word is back-slang for DRUNK n.2 is also unsupported by the spellings, as is derivation from the name of Mortimer Snerd, a dummy used by the U.S. ventriloquist Edgar Bergen in the 1930s (see e.g. J. E. Lighter Hist. Dict. Amer. Slang (1997) s.v. Nerd).

Chronos
11-12-2008, 11:52 AM
You need to understand how far behind the OED is on modern terminology. They're prepping for a third edition that will be all electronic, but until that finally appears they're not a good source for recent etymology.You can say that again. A few years ago, a science-fiction group was doing legwork for first usages of speculative-fiction words for the OED. One of the words on their list, that they wanted a confirmed first usage for, was "hobbit-hole". Which first appears, of course, on page 1 of The Hobbit, and can't very well have appeared any earlier than that. If the OED is having trouble citing a word coined in a book written by one of their own editors, they've got some serious problems.

Exapno Mapcase
11-12-2008, 11:59 AM
I hope you've seen the result, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, by Jeff Prucher (http://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-Words-Dictionary-Science/dp/0195305671/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226512625&sr=8-1).

Hobbit is not an entry, interestingly.

For the problems and omissions of the OED, see Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED, by Charlotte Brewer (http://www.amazon.com/Treasure-House-Language-Living-Charlotte-Brewer/dp/0300124295/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226512685&sr=1-2).

Giles
11-12-2008, 12:05 PM
I hope you've seen the result, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, by Jeff Prucher (http://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-Words-Dictionary-Science/dp/0195305671/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226512625&sr=8-1).

Hobbit is not an entry, interestingly.
Since Tolkien's fictional works are fantasy rather than science fiction, they may not be in scope for Prucher's work.

sqweels
11-12-2008, 12:06 PM
My--probably incorrect--theory has nerd being derived from "Brainerd". A more obvious term for an over-achieving student being "brain", this could have been embellished to "brainerd" or "brain nerd" and thus "nerd".

Disney's The Absent Minded Professor starred Fred MacMurray as "Professor Brainerd" who was obsessed with scientific formulas to the exclusion of his social life. But given that it was released in 1960, that movie could not have been the original inspiration.

Another theory has the term being derived from Mortimer Snerd, a doofus character created by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Even though Mr. Snerd is nothing like a "brain", the use of "nerd" in peer culture emphasizes awkwardness and dorkiness, so a connection could still be drawn.

KlondikeGeoff
11-12-2008, 12:10 PM
I've seen some webpages that claim that the word was used in the 1960s or so at my alma mater, Rensselaer, but spelled nurd or knurd (i.e., drunk spelled backward).

::excuse hijack:: Ah, Dewey, how seldom anybody uses the name "Rensselaer" (or even spells it correctly), or has any clue as to what RPI is. I never attended, but worked there at one time.

Exapno Mapcase
11-12-2008, 12:36 PM
Another theory has the term being derived from Mortimer Snerd, a doofus character created by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Even though Mr. Snerd is nothing like a "brain", the use of "nerd" in peer culture emphasizes awkwardness and dorkiness, so a connection could still be drawn.

You didn't read APB's cite:
The suggestion that the word is back-slang for DRUNK n.2 is also unsupported by the spellings, as is derivation from the name of Mortimer Snerd, a dummy used by the U.S. ventriloquist Edgar Bergen in the 1930s (see e.g. J. E. Lighter Hist. Dict. Amer. Slang (1997) s.v. Nerd).
Brainerd seems more like a back-formation than the originating term.


Since Tolkien's fictional works are fantasy rather than science fiction, they may not be in scope for Prucher's work.
Entries include fantastic n.; fantastic adj.; and fantasy n.

Inside science fiction, sf always includes fantasy unless the terms are specifically separated.

Hobbit probably wasn't included, now that I think about it, because its use is basically confined to one writer, while all the terms that were included are used by many and backed up by a multitude of varied cites. A lot of fantasy terms are unique to their originator (or taken from the real world rather than coined) while sf writers tend to borrow language to create what James Gunn first termed a consensus future. (Which also isn't in the book.)

Frylock
11-12-2008, 01:18 PM
Entries include fantastic n.; fantastic adj.; and fantasy n.


Better examples might be entries for elf or dwarf or wizard or something.


Inside science fiction, sf always includes fantasy unless the terms are specifically separated.


Okay, I know you're a science fiction author. I still can't help asking for a citation for this. It's just that I've never noticed this usage.

-FrL-

Terminus Est
11-12-2008, 01:49 PM
Okay, I know you're a science fiction author. I still can't help asking for a citation for this. It's just that I've never noticed this usage.


You've never noticed that something like the Hugo Awards (http://www.thehugoawards.org/?page_id=5), given at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) by members of the World Science Fiction Society, are award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy?

Harmonious Discord
11-12-2008, 01:53 PM
The word nerd existed long before Dr. Suez. It was the name of a game. So where he may be the first to use it for a person, it is a borrowed word, not an original.

toadspittle
11-12-2008, 01:58 PM
The word nerd existed long before Dr. Suez. It was the name of a game. So where he may be the first to use it for a person, it is a borrowed word, not an original.

Was he the guy that engineered the Canal?

Frylock
11-12-2008, 02:01 PM
You've never noticed that something like the Hugo Awards (http://www.thehugoawards.org/?page_id=5), given at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) by members of the World Science Fiction Society, are award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy?

I have noticed that, but it's not an instance of the term "sf" being used to include fantasy except where the two are explicitly separated. Notice that in the first sentence of the text at the website you pointed me to, the two are explicitly separated.

-FrL-

CalMeacham
11-12-2008, 02:05 PM
The word nerd existed long before Dr. Suez. It was the name of a game. So where he may be the first to use it for a person, it is a borrowed word, not an original.


Do you have a reference or cite for this? I'm curious. The Boston Globe ran an article on the word "nerd" a couple of years ago, and cite the Dr. Seuss work as the origin of the word. I've not heard or read of an earlier cite anywhere, and this sounds interesting.

Harmonious Discord
11-12-2008, 02:57 PM
http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19914

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4902

Do a find on the the files for nerd.

toadspittle
11-12-2008, 03:15 PM
So "nerd" was a board game (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/fulltext-context?fulltext=nerd&fk_files[]=273164&fk_files[]=273164) in medieval times?

Terminus Est
11-12-2008, 03:19 PM
I have noticed that, but it's not an instance of the term "sf" being used to include fantasy except where the two are explicitly separated. Notice that in the first sentence of the text at the website you pointed me to, the two are explicitly separated.

-FrL-

That's so no one will complain when works like Pan's Labyrinth gets awarded the Hugo. Note that it is called the World Science Fiction Convention, not the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, yet still includes fantasy. Asimov's Science Fiction magazine routinely publishes works of fantasy. The Science Fiction Writers and Fantasy of America has always included fantasy writers in their membership, even when they were only known as the Science Fiction Writers of America. Noted science fiction author James Gunn's Basic Science Fiction Library (http://www2.ku.edu/~sfcenter/sflib.htm) includes fantasy works by Marion Zimmer Bradley, L. Sprague de Camp, Elizabeth Hand, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Frylock
11-12-2008, 03:27 PM
That's so no one will complain when works like Pan's Labyrinth gets awarded the Hugo. Note that it is called the World Science Fiction Convention, not the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, yet still includes fantasy. Asimov's Science Fiction magazine routinely publishes works of fantasy. The Science Fiction Writers and Fantasy of America has always included fantasy writers in their membership, even when they were only known as the Science Fiction Writers of America. Noted science fiction author James Gunn's Basic Science Fiction Library (http://www2.ku.edu/~sfcenter/sflib.htm) includes fantasy works by Marion Zimmer Bradley, L. Sprague de Camp, Elizabeth Hand, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The claim I was asking for citation about was the following: Sf always includes fantasy, except when they are explicitly separated.

When the World Science Fiction Convention hosts a fantasy related event, is the work in question referred to as sf, or as fantasy? If sf, then I can see your point, but if as fantasy, then sf and fantasy have been "explicitly separated" in that case.

Similar to all your other citations.

Maybe I just misunderstood Exapno Mapcase's claim. I thought he was saying that fantasy stories are also, by virtue of being fantasy stories, sf stories. That's what I took his use of the word "include" to signify.

-FrL-

Harmonious Discord
11-12-2008, 04:17 PM
So "nerd" was a board game (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/fulltext-context?fulltext=nerd&fk_files[]=273164&fk_files[]=273164) in medieval times?

I can't tell you how far back the game goes or when the name nerd became associated with it. I can say that those two authors I linked beat Seuss to using it.

Arbuthnot, F. F., 1833-1901
A Manual of Arabian History and Literature

[Footnote 4: Nerd.--This game is mentioned as early as the
Shah-Namah, the author of which, Firdausi, was of opinion
that it is of genuine Persian, and not of Indian origin,
like chess, but this assertion is not necessarily correct.
Hyde has described the game in his 'Historia Nerdiludii,'
and it resembles somewhat the German puff and triktrak, and
the English backgammon. It is played on a board divided into
black-and-white compartments, with a black and a white house
in the centre. The moves are made according to the numbers
that come up on the throw of two dice.]


Bird, H. E. (Henry Edward), 1830-1908
Chess History and Reminiscences

I have nothing more that I can add on this subject.

Exapno Mapcase
11-12-2008, 06:07 PM
Maybe I just misunderstood Exapno Mapcase's claim. I thought he was saying that fantasy stories are also, by virtue of being fantasy stories, sf stories. That's what I took his use of the word "include" to signify.
That's not what I meant. Indeed, it's the other way around. Fantasy is the more inclusive term. All sf stories are fantasy stories, but not all fantasy stories are sf. Mostly, though, that gets into the definition wars that have raged for decades within the field. Some extremists claim that all fiction is fantasy.

What I meant is that the term science fiction, starting sometime after Hugo Gernsbeck started Amazing Stories in 1926, became the common shorthand term to refer to anything that was "otherworldly." Prose fiction, movies, comics, all were referred to as science fiction. Fantasy was more of a specialized term used for particular kinds of stories. However, you also could find science fantasy, speculative fiction, and many other terms used.

In fact, the term science fiction was so commonly used inclusively that fantasy writers became upset that they were not being properly recognized. The Science Fiction Writers of America was founded in 1965 by Damon Knight, who had a bias for science fiction as opposed to fantasy. Even so, stories nominated for their award, the Nebula, included from the start fantasy stories, mainstream stories, "slipstream" stories (mainstream writers attempting speculative works), utopias, magic realism, and other. At some point the organization changed its name officially to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but confusingly kept its acronym of SFWA.

Similarly, the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Society was presumed to reward science fiction stories. There again fantasy stories were nominated almost from the very start. Many of these were published in the same "science fiction" magazines because editors, readers, and writers didn't care to make the hard distinction.

In recent years, pure fantasy has probably overtaken pure science fiction in its fraction of the market. That's probably why most people who are writing semi-officially are careful to use science fiction and fantasy to refer to works generated in the field.

Even so, old habits die hard and "science fiction" remains common shorthand for the entire field, both within the field and outside in the general mainstream writing community. In more casual use, not usually within the field, the term "sci-fi" is the generic indicator of anything vaguely other. It also encompasses fantasy. Sci-Fi movies can be fantasy, superhero, horror, or a multitude of finer slices of the weird.

That's why there have been definition wars in the field. Everybody wants recognition for what they do, but the boundaries are always blurry. Nobody can agree on where the lines fall and insisting on the tiny distinctions often sounds pretentious.

The mystery and romance genres have similar problems. They each have dozens of sub-genres and overlap into general mainstream fiction in ways that are partly sheerly commercial and partly aesthetic.

You want fine definitions, you go to the academic arm, the Science Fiction Research Association. Oops. :)

samclem
11-12-2008, 06:18 PM
The word nerd existed long before Dr. Suez. It was the name of a game. So where he may be the first to use it for a person, it is a borrowed word, not an original. It's only a borrowed word if someone was aware of it and borrowed it. Which seems highly unlikely.

pulykamell
11-12-2008, 06:27 PM
I can't tell you how far back the game goes or when the name nerd became associated with it. I can say that those two authors I linked beat Seuss to using it.

Arbuthnot, F. F., 1833-1901
A Manual of Arabian History and Literature

[Footnote 4: Nerd.--This game is mentioned as early as the
Shah-Namah, the author of which, Firdausi, was of opinion
that it is of genuine Persian, and not of Indian origin,
like chess, but this assertion is not necessarily correct.
Hyde has described the game in his 'Historia Nerdiludii,'
and it resembles somewhat the German puff and triktrak, and
the English backgammon. It is played on a board divided into
black-and-white compartments, with a black and a white house
in the centre. The moves are made according to the numbers
that come up on the throw of two dice.]


Bird, H. E. (Henry Edward), 1830-1908
Chess History and Reminiscences

I have nothing more that I can add on this subject.

In Uzbekistan, backgammon (and variations on it) are known as nardi. Sounds to me like a cognate of the same word.

edit: Apprently, it goes by the same name in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Chronos
11-12-2008, 06:35 PM
John Campbell's definition keeps everything nice and simple: Science fiction is that which is published in science fiction magazines. Which, in practical terms, meant that he was free to publish pretty much whatever he wanted.

Exapno Mapcase
11-12-2008, 07:12 PM
Yeah, but that was the source of all the problems. And it was a lot easier to say back before 1950 when the magazines were the field, since virtually no books were beig published, and Galaxy and (especially) The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction didn't yet exist to greatly expand the notion of what was sellable to the major magazines in the field. After F&SF* the deluge.

* The first issue was published under the name The Magazine of Fantasy, but Boucher and McComas quickly realized that they had a mix of stories they wanted to publish.

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