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How to Be Smart, Not Nerdy

Updated on October 29, 2012

The Great Debate: Nerd vs. Smart

This is a representation of a stereotypical "nerd."
This is a representation of a stereotypical "nerd." | Source

As one of those people who's always been known as smart, I often take offense when people call me "nerdy."

To me, "nerdy" usually refers to people with suspenders, large quantities of comic books, and an obsession with Japan (no offense to anyone intended!).

Although the images of the prototypical nerd change from person to person, there are a few general ways of thinking and being that you can follow to share you are smart, not nerdy.

1. Areas of Interest

The different between smart and nerdy people when it comes to their interests is often most obvious when you look at the specifics.

A smart person might love history, a nerdy person might dress up as Abraham Lincoln on Tuesdays.

It is always okay to be interested and focused on very specific topics, but the differences between these two groups often rest on the intensity and scope. If you only live for one idea and you put your life on hold for it (especially for topics slightly on the outside of mainstream society), you'll probably be called a "nerd."

To be a smart person, you'd need to show an intellectually detached focus with perhaps even a scholastic eye.

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2. Way of Seeing the World

In addition to those specific areas of interest, a smart person is more often interested in a broad range of similar topics.

For example, a smart person might be interested in "the relationship between rationality and poetry in multiple disciplines." Therefore, they view the world with a critical eye to discern the way the world works in regard to their preferred philosophies.

3. Dress and Costume

In the smart community, people tend to wear rather practical and often even rather socially progressive clothing. There are some button-ups with khakis, but more often than not, they dress like regular, ordinary people.

Meanwhile, nerds might be known for wearing very distinctive types of apparel. And that's just in their everyday dress. Nerds also indulge in things like cosplay and RPGs, so they might be seen in costumes.

As a smart person, you'll never see me in a costume. Even on Halloween, I tend to take the opportunity to dress as someone in a different social group. I don't wear wings or masks or plastic weapons.

4. Social Skills

Although both nerds and smart people might indulge in rather obsessive studies, there are sometimes big differences in their social abilities.

Sure, we might all be a little awkward, but nothing about being smart necessarily precludes the ability to socialize effectively. Instead, we might get too analytical or prosaic in our language. Really, we fly beneath the radar and fit into a baseline model of "normal" behaviors.

Nerds may struggle to fit even these basic behaviors. They often struggle to make even polite conversation without getting a furrowed brow in response to their latest story.

Smart Person Spotting Territory

Bookstores are havens for smart people.
Bookstores are havens for smart people. | Source

5. Equipment

We generally think of nerds as people carrying about comics, pocket protectors, calculators, and other things that fit the specific niches of nerdom. These are not always accurate, of course, but they're a figurative model.

Smart people are much more likely to carry around books or ereaders, and are often indulging in independent study on an area of particular interest. The books might be fiction, but are rarely indulgent or what I call "brain candy."

To spot a nerd, just look for people with big books. :)


Of course, these generalizations are not always true, and individuals can fit anywhere among the spectrum of nerd-smart intensity. In popular culture, these are some good indicators of who's nerdy and who's smart.

Many of us fit in both categories, however, so watch out!


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    • rmcleve profile image

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      JKenny, guys are lucky in that way! I feel like it's a little easier to blend socially when you're not expected to talk dudes and love at all turns. Plus, I think it's difficult across the board to find people who are willing and able to engage in intellectual pursuits. Love talking to smart people! Thanks for your response, good sir! :)

    • rmcleve profile image

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      huckelbury, I agree about the Renaissance man/woman. In fact, it's one of the ideas I've been struggling with. In my career as a freelance writer, I'm told to find a niche and stick to it. But, I'm one of those people who enjoys pollinating her flowers in vast and various fields. I guess that just means I have to work extra hard to be an expert in more than one field... And no, I haven't read those! I'm writing that down for my next book buy as I've been looking for titles. God, I love talking to you!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Interesting hub. In school I had a double personality, on one hand I could talk about video games, computers and Sci-Fi with a group of guys, but on the other hand, I was able to mix it with the sporty guys, although when it came to intelligent conversation, they usually came unstuck :)

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      huckelbury 5 years ago

      Loved this piece! Who cares if we're smart, nerdy, or a combination of both? The point is that some people have an innate curiosity about many things and a drive to explore the reasons behind phenomena. There was a time when a true Renaissance man or woman could command expertise in just about everything in the known world. Ours is a far more complicated world, but we can still try to emulate that example. Have you read David Bodanis's "Passionate Minds," about Voltaire and Emilie du Chatelet? Fascinating tour and a classic example of your descriptions here. Much thanks.

    • rmcleve profile image

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      billybuc, I think many smart people are just nerds in hiding! :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was most definitely a nerd in school; I have learned to hide it well. :)

      Fun hub!