Jorge changed the subject of our conversation about modern culture the other day. He wondered aloud about the word “dork” and how it became a somewhat socially acceptable term.
I replied that, to me, dork is one of those borderline words that I very rarely use in conversation. In my mind, it’s a derogatory word, regardless of how it’s dressed up. I suppose I still think of the word as a vulgar, adolescent reference to male gentialia. No, etymologists agree that “dork” is not the specific term for a whale penis.
Jorge added that he associates the word with some people’s negative opinions of sexuality. He admitted that he sometimes uses it as an epithet when a driver cuts him off in traffic or otherwise violates a traffic law. Jorge asked my opinion of dork because he heard a talk show caller remind the program’s listeners that “Be A Dork Day” was coming up soon. The show’s host bantered with the caller for a couple of minutes then changed the subject. My pal thought such a thing as Be A Dork Day seems very odd.
I noted that dork crosses the fine line regarding respectability about questionable names. Some media commentators have called characters like Stephen Colbert a “political dork” when he plays the faux-rightwinger on his “Colbert Report” show. I argue that because Colbert uses amazing, backhanded intellect and cleverness, that he is a “political nerd” instead. Dorks are defined as stupid while nerds are thought of as quite smart. Colbert certainly is smart.
Jorge noted that another insulting word has gained grudging respectability–geek. He reminded me about that uncomfortably bigoted Freddie Blassie novelty song, “Pencil Neck Geek”. Even though the song is supposed to be funny, neither Jorge nor I feel that way about it.
Geek, like dork, began as a very insulting name regarding people thought of as inept, clumsy, foolish, and outcast. Geeks, like nerds, are actually quite intelligent. The Jerry Lewis character in “The Nutty Professor” is the film version of a geek.
I admitted that the term “dork” is a socially evolving term. While a dork is supposedly somebody who is very stupid, socially inept, overly self-centered, and creepy, a dork can now describe someone who can be that way and allegedly not care what anyone else thinks. In my opinion, to self-identify as a dork is unhealthy.
Jorge agreed, then said that if a person must self-identify as a socially awkward, unstylish person, she or he would be better off identifying as a nerd or even a geek. Even calling oneself a “dweeb” would be much better than thinking of oneself as a slow-witted dork.
Then he asked how are we supposed to handle or even celebrate Be A Dork Day?
I suggested that maybe we should just over-emphasize our inner nerdlike natures and let it go at that. Maybe we could make a quick trip to the Goodwill Store and buy some horrendously outdated clothing to wear for the occasion.
My friend mentioned that “dorks” are thought to have odd, non-mainstream interests. Jorge said his obsession about pocket watches probably qualifies. Maybe he will wear his ugliest pocket watch and attempt to start conversations by pointing out his odd accessory, especially to total strangers.
I wondered if posing as a dork would disqualify us as even “honorary dorks”. Because we would be using our cleverness to pretend to be dorks, we would actually be dorky nerds, instead.
Jorge mussed up his hair, widened his eyes, bit his bottom lip, and smiled. He then laughed, “Maybe that’s OK.”