The last few weeks have been awash in nerds and geeks. ChipChick published a guide to dating a geek girl, while CNN decried “wannabe models” pretending to be nerds. Before that came the shootings in Aurora, where media described killer James Holmes as a science-loving geek or a “dark Trekkie-like person.” While these pieces have generated thoughtful responses across the web, eventually they run into the same problem: defining what “nerd” and “geek” are actually supposed to mean.

If you want to cut to the bare minimum, there's a Venn diagram, with “nerd” being the combination of intelligence, obsession, and social ineptitude — in case you were wondering, “geek” involves only the first two attributes. But despite the existence of niche interests like those showcased on the 56 Geeks chart, you're most likely to see the term used around a certain nexus of activities: comics, video games, science fiction, and programming or hacking. If you’re interested in one of those things, you’ll likely be introduced to the rest; I started out as a kid reading Poul Anderson, and by midway through college, I’d been sucked into a vortex of manga, shooters, and IT support.