Legal definition of ‘nerd’

Various stock figures people the pages of English law: the man on the Clapham omnibus, the reasonable man / person, the officious bystander. There is also (new to me), in patent law, the man skilled in the art, possibly to become the nerd.

IPKAT reported on 28 October (topic continued 3 November) that Sir Robin Jacob introduced the term (nice quotes) and was criticized by Lord Justice Pill:

As to the “man skilled in the art”, he is described by Jacob LJ as a ‘nerd’ (paragraphs 7 and 11) and as “not a complete android” (paragraph 10), which suggests that he is part of the way to being an android. A ‘nerd’ is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (10th Edition 1999) as “a person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious” and an ‘android’, in the same work, as “(in science fiction) a robot with a human appearance”. I hope that those working in this field will not regard “men skilled in the art” as figures from science fiction who lack social skills. Jacob LJ, will think me less than supportive of the development of the language of the law but I do respectfully prefer, for its clarity, Lord Reid’s terminology cited at paragraph 7 of the judgment”.

The IPKAT wonders, as do I, if this is the right definition. Of course, the Concise Oxford no longer has the reputation it once did. A commenter quotes the OED: ‘A person excessively interested in something and finds it hard to get along with people’, and links to the nerd test (500 questions, many only for Americans, which may explain why I’m 81% nerd pure).

2 thoughts on “Legal definition of ‘nerd’

  1. It’s an interesting development in legalese, and it causes me much bemusement. When I showed up as a freshman at MIT in 1974, I had never heard the word before. I learned the word lying on my stomach in bed on the top floor of the Runkle entry in Senior House, leafing through the student-published How to Get Along At MIT. It was a new enough term that the spelling had not yet stabilized: I think HoToGAMIT preferred gnurd at the time, and you would occasionally hear people affect, as a joke, a spelling-pronunciation in which the “g” was audible. It’s amusing to me that a bit of Tech undergraduate slang has achieved such currency; I believe “hacker” has the same early-1970’s MIT provenance.

    But gnurdly nostalgia aside, what caught my attention in this post was your relayed quote from IPKAT’s commenter “Peter”, who claims that the OED commits what is to me a completely impossible coordination. Can somebody with access to the OED (perhaps our gracious hostess) find out what their phrasing actually is? All right, I found a strange grammatical construction more salient than the intended content of the post. I guess that makes me a …

  2. ACW, your suspicions must be justified. Here is the OED, at all events, confirming the MIT gnurd spelling (and I wonder where ‘Peter’ found his OED):
    Slang, chiefly U.S.
    [Of uncertain origin: sometimes taken as a euphemistic alteration of turd (see, for example, D. L. Gold in Comments in Etymol. (1983) XII. 27), though perh. simply derived from the children’s book character cited in quot. 1950.]
    An insignificant or contemptible person, one who is conventional, affected, or studious; a ‘square’, a ‘swot’.
    [1950 ‘Dr. Seuss’ If I ran Zoo 49 And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!] 1957 Sunday Mail (Glasgow) 10 Feb. 11 Nerd—a square. 1968–70 Current Slang (Univ. S. Dakota) III–IV. 88 Nurd, someone with objectionable habits or traits; an affected person.+ An uninteresting person, a ‘dud’. 1971 Observer 23 May 36/3 Nerds are people who don’t live meaningful lives. 1979 Tucson Mag. Feb. 21/2 Graffitti.+ Possibly the world’s largest depository of nerd art. 1980 Internat. Herald Tribune 21 July 16/1 At MIT, ‘nerd’ is spelled ‘gnurd’.+ Gnurds study all the time because they like to. 1983 Truck & Bus Transportation July 129/1 When loose-brained nurds crack up the top arrangements of a man o’ my calibre, I got no union t’ thump them nurds with. 1984 Guardian 17 June 21/2 His+rage+is directed at the whole of American society for its bland, tasteless, pretentious, illiterate ‘nerd-pack’ mentality. 1986 M. Howard Expensive Habits 107 He feels+like a total nerd in his gentleman’s coat with the velvet collar.

    Hence “nerdy a., characteristic of a ‘nerd’.
    1978 N.Y. Times 25 Jan. d18 (Advt.), The nerdiest nerds on TV are really smart cookies. 1979 New Yorker 19 Feb. 92 The nurdier clients want foil.+ ‘If the potatoes are in foil, that’s gourmet.’ 1982 Guardian 26 Oct. 8/8 She goes for a really tubular type of dude, the kind of hot babe with a cute butt who isn’t all hairy and gross but isn’t any nerdy zod either. 1987 N.Y. Times Mag. 31 May 46/3 Our wives+agreed that we had been pretty nerdy back then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.