Language and Nerd Culture: What the Frak is a Sephiroth?

Mary Bucholtz notes that “the social practices that nerd girls engage in in order to construct their identities are accompanied by socially meaningful linguistic practices” (1998:124), and “far from being socially incompetent, nerds are sociolinguistically and interactionally adept” (1998:120). She points out the language ideology present in the nerd community, which she calls “superstandard English.” In “The Whiteness of Nerds,” she states that a “superstandard is a variety that surpasses the prescriptive norm established by the standard,” but for those in the community, “the superstandard may be the everyday, ‘unmarked’ variety for ordinary interaction” (2001:88). Laura Ahearn describes language ideologies as “the attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or theories” that everyone has about language (2012:20). Several factors influenced Bucholtz’s use of this “superstandard” descriptor, such as lexical formality and “carefully articulated phonological forms” (2001:88). Additionally, Bucholtz also evaluated that “nerds often chose formal-register polysyllabic variants of Greco-Latinate origin over more colloquial Germanic monosyllables” (2001:93), finding that nerds tend to show “resistance to trendy language forms and frequent use of lexical items associated with intelligence” (1998:126).

I would argue that the “nerd community” is its own separate language community. In addition to the “superstandard English” defined by Bucholtz, there is a lexicon of terms and pictures that outsiders may not understand or recognize, such as “slayer,” “frak,” “42,” and “Pottermore.” Chad Wertley asserts that there is “a general expectation that geeks are familiar with every geek interest” (2013:10), and his interviews with San Diego Comic-Con participants show this to be commonplace. “One participant perfectly summarized this frustration: ‘There’s no way I could know every single character in every single comic book and every single video game, because we all have different interests. So instead of getting upset about it, teach the person and show them’” (2013:11). There is also, especially in my personal experience as a woman, “a pattern of marginalization by males as [females] felt that males underestimated their knowledge and abilities” (2013:12). Despite the internal conflict some women experience in the nerd culture, the culture stands separate linguistically.

Works Cited

Ahearn, L.M. (2012) The socially charged life of language. In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 3-30.

Bucholtz, M. (1998) Geek the girl: language, femininity, and female nerds. In Gender and Belief Systems: Proceedings of the Fourth Berkeley Women and Language Conference, pp. 119-131. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Women and Language Group. Accessed May 7, 2017.

———-. (2001) The whiteness of nerds: superstandard English and racial markedness. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11(1):84-100. Accessed May 7, 2017.

Wertley, C. (2013) “You are not a true geek, I am”: the role of communicative aggression in geek culture. Unpublished manuscript. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE. Accessed May 7, 2017.