Friday, January 07, 2005

My Nerdiest Moments

We've all had them: moments of pure nerdly inspiration and expression. Without any assistance they stick to the walls of our memory through sheer idiosyncratic force.

Many of mine came when I dated my nerdiest in a long line of nerdy girlfriends, Laura Anderson. Laura was my first serious girlfriend: we were both math majors and scholarship winners. Together we created new words in an attempt to define and fill lexical gaps: concepts that exist or can be simply explained but lack a word to signify them. My favorite was "lorange," which we declared to signify any one-syllable word that rhymes with no other in the language it is spoken. Since "lorange" creates a rhyme for "orange," its existence would effectively empty its own concept. Therefore the only way it could remain meaningful for use would be if it remained merely imaginary and weren't used at all. Russell's Paradox it ain't, but it made for quite a nerdy afternoon in 1999.

Some of my other more nerdy moments were also my most rebellious. When I was a kid, I was a hell of a smart-ass, which got me beaten by nuns pretty often. If I didn't like something, I liked to come up with high-minded putdowns: I thought they'd get me out of trouble. I got teased once by my third-grade teacher, Sister June, for always tapping Jenny, the girl I'd had a crush on since first grade, when we played a game called 7-Up. (By grade three, it was pretty easy to tell it was me, given the trembling breath and the slightly-too-quick, slightly-too-lingering touch.) I don't remember what I said at the time, but afterwards, when Sister June remarked that it had been a fun game, I loudly complained, "I thought not!!" Beaten again. After all, I'd already been suspended a year earlier after I protested that not even starving children in Bangladesh would eat the school's chicken ravioli. I must have read about it somewhere.

Throughout my growing up, the true mark of my nerdiness was the way I would mispronounce words I had frequently read and understood perfectly but never heard spoken. I think I learned almost every word I know from context: I only started seriously using dictionaries maybe a year or so ago. (Thanks to the OED for putting their dictionary online and to Penn for subscribing to it.) This still occasionally gets me into trouble: I had been getting the meaning of commiserate slightly wrong for years until I finally looked it up. (It really means to sympathize with or show pity for one another, not just to share mutual complaints.)

Given a long enough timeline, virtually everyone becomes a nerd with respect to something, in the sense of keenly reveling in the minutiae of a field where a degree of special knowledge and/or intelligence is necessary. It might be cars, sports, or rock music instead of poetry, physics, or violin, but there are nerdly delights to be found everywhere. The field of elevated nerddom that saved me for later sports was baseball. No other sport has ever been more rewarding to nerds, combining the essential rational, traditional, and charismatic forms of nerdly authority. And thank goodness there was something that got me outside, meeting older kids and winning their respect. I was enough of an insufferable tub as it was. And still am.

1 comment:

Gavin said...


Ah, sweet, nerdy memories. :-)