Word nerds stand at the apex of the geek hierarchy. Most species of the obsessive and socially maladjusted retreat from the world, but the linguistic acrobats transform it.
Word nerds stand at the apex of the geek hierarchy.
Most species of the obsessive and socially maladjusted retreat from the world, but the linguistic acrobats transform it.
The geek world is a black hole, and the stuff at the center never escapes. Trekkies and otaku and Whedonites huddle in sweaty circumscribed enclaves that fold their monomaniacal obsessions back onto themselves. The role-playing game crowd can claim a little more visibility—they’ve got Stephen Colbert and Robin Williams in their club—but dungeon masters seldom leave their dank, incense-scented suburban basements for much longer than it takes to bag the Kilimanjaro-scale stack of empty Mountain Dew cans in the corner.
Don’t even get me started on Doctor Who fans.
Maybe the Slashdotters, open-source advocates and early-adopting IT desk jockeys are equals to the wordies. They’re pushing the cultural mainstream toward an electronically saturated panopticonic techno-nightmare in which everything will be known all the time. In utero embryonic cybernetic engineering will integrate SMS into our frontal lobes: If you can think it, you can text it!
But that’s the future. Right now the content providers reign supreme.
Speech, to paraphrase Aristotle, is that which moves us to action. Science and philosophy furnish the truth, but truth just sits flaccid on the shelf next to the Gundam models of some inarticulate shut-in until an enterprising wordsmith hones its tip with the verbal whetstone and thrusts it hard into our collective consciousness.
Poets, journalists, crossword enthusiasts, Wikipedia editors, opinion-page columnists, stoned script-monkeys turning out episodes of Family Guy and
PG-13-rated garbage starring Ben Stiller: These—word nerds and former English majors all of them—are the real brahmins of the modern West.
A representative sample of word nerds proves this point. Take Will Shortz, Super Mario look-alike and editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, is the consummate words-for-their-own-sake nerd. The only individual in the world to hold a university degree in enigmatology—that is, the study of puzzles—and the owner of the world’s largest private puzzle library, Shortz exemplifies an unsurpassably eclectic field of verbal knowledge. Who else could have included crossword clues the likes of “repeated Wayne’s World cry” and “France’s ____ d’Avignon” in the same puzzle? (Answers: “party on” and “Pont,” respectively.)
At the other end of the spectrum lies The Wit, an individual who harnesses language’s destructive and excitative power to hold the world at bay. And who more witty than Oscar Wilde, whose disarming humor crushed the grim realities of loss, sadness and death?
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” Wilde proclaimed, and, “A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.” Say this stuff aloud—see how awesome you sound? So awesome that everything you say must be true.
Then there’s The Sage, a spellbinding specimen who with a succession of images and pronouncements expertly calculated to instill the wisdom of the ancients holds captive all those around him. Though sages traditionally plied their trade around campfires under the spreading summer expanse of stars, today they’ve mostly been subsumed by hip-hop. Twenty-first-century shamans like the Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA return us to the elemental, violent reality of our ancestors with pyrotechnical braggadocio: “I’m on a mission that niggas say is impossible/but when I swing my swords they all choppable.”
How, you ask, might one enter this elite cadre of lexical transfigurators? What’s the first step toward transforming the objects of the world into bright, shining prosody?
Read, my friend. Climb the great intellectual heights of Joycean epiphanic navel-gazing; wade through Nabokov’s ambiguous mire of ironic sincerity; stare hard at pages of Pound and snatch at the merest inkling of whatever the hell it is he’s talking about; peruse Craigslist’s unending volumes of classifieds and fully appreciate the debased, utilitarian speech of the streets.
Communicate freely with each passing stranger, copying every indistinct utterance into ink-scribbled notebooks. Vent your bitchiness and bile in unedited blasts on unread Internet forums while the moderators sleep. Make the least argument seem best in every inconsequential conversation you engage in with barflies and birdwatchers.
You may slowly become another species of human: outcast, stigmatized, excluded for your savage, incisive pronouncements. But fret not. As a new member of our tribe, we will welcome you with open arms and unending jiggers of hot bourbon. Genius recognizes genius, and yours and mine are the same.
Together we will stride tall o’er the earth.
And we’ll show the sallow-faced recluses a thing or two about true, self-consuming nerdiness.