It is quite common to wonder where some words in the English language came from. A language that has undergone many changes with changing times, most of its words are no longer used to mean what they originally meant. Some that seem harmless today had weird origins.
An example is the word geek, which has had quite the transformation, going from an insulting term to one which those who are referred to with wear as a badge of honor. Basically, geek is actually an old English word meaning freak, borrowed from the German word “geck,” which could also be used to mean fool. However, that’s not all there is to the story of ‘geek’.
In the recent past, geek was used along other words such as dork and nerd to portray a person who was socially awkward, meaning they were poor at social relations. In addition to this, they also had some sort of obsession, usually of an intellectual capacity, something that majority of the population found boring. Geeks would be shunned and bullied, in short, outcasted. As the years went by, being a geek turned into something that was not so bad. It was still associated with people with nearly non-existent social life, but now with an obsession with technology especially computers. Being geek is something that’s now cool, and those labelled with it do not feel like they’re being looked down upon.
That is the recent history of geek because the word certainly did not come around due to people who would rather spend time alone poring over things considered to be intellectually challenging.
The origin of the word
The origin of the word geek is actually quite bizarre. While it was used to mean an outcast, it wasn’t the kind of outcast that it meant in the recent past. It wasn’t just someone who was termed as ‘uncool’.
Originally, geek referred to a performer at a circus or carnival whose show consisted of acts that were in short, grotesque. Considered to be sideshow freaks, geeks bit the heads off live animals such as chicken, snakes and rats. This part of the carnival job was considered very disgusting and even fellow acts shunned the geeks, and that’s how they were outcasts. It was in mid-twentieth century when the word started being used to generally mean an outcast or misfit. Anyone whose behavior or quirks didn’t not match those that society believed to be normal got branded as one. Back then, it was a genuine insult that no one wanted to be called.
After all, being referred to as something similar to a freak who eats live animals for show is quite a degrading term and one couldn’t possibly get any more weird than that. But as mentioned earlier it’s now quite the cool identity. Most of those using it definitely have no idea it means what it meant in the past. There are probably hundreds of other English words with less than pleasant origins that have become acceptable in modern times.