Posted by: Jack Henry | February 22, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Geek

Hello Editor’s Corner folks! It feels like it has been forever since we’ve been in touch—probably because it has! Right after we celebrated the new year, my husband got a very special gift: a new kidney. I’ll spare you the history and the commotion involved in an organ transplant and get straight to today’s topic: the word geek.

While Ray is recovering, we are in quarantine for three months, and he is trying to catch up on films nominated for Academy Awards. As his sidekick, I’ve watched several flicks with him, and I’ve been keeping track of some interesting words.

Today we have a certain idea of what a geek is, in fact Best Buy has a “Geek Squad” to help you with your computers, TVs, phones, and other home appliances. However, one of the films we watched, Nightmare Alley, introduces you to the older definition of geek. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

geek (n.)

"sideshow freak," 1916, U.S. carnival and circus slang, perhaps a variant of geck "a fool, dupe, simpleton" (1510s), apparently from…North Sea Germanic and Scandinavian meaning "to croak, cackle," and also "to mock, cheat." The modern form and the popular use with reference to circus sideshow "wild men" is from 1946, in William Lindsay Gresham’s novel "Nightmare Alley" (made into a film in 1947 starring Tyrone Power) [KC – And last year remade by Guillermo del Toro].

"An ordinary geek doesn’t actually eat snakes, just bites off chunks of ’em, chicken heads and rats." [Arthur H. Lewis, "Carnival," 1970]

By c. 1983, used in teenager slang in reference to peers who lacked social graces but were obsessed with new technology and computers (such as the Anthony Michael Hall character in 1984’s "Sixteen Candles").

Let me just say, this film starts in 1939, and things have changed tremendously since then when it comes to carnivals and circuses. If you aren’t up to films about carnivals, crime, and conning, you will not want to see this film. If you do enjoy those things, period pieces, or Guillermo del Toro, you should check it out when you have a chance. It’s very dark.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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