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Is there a way to express "geek"/"nerd" idiom in Russian without a whole paragraph describing what or who a nerd/geek is?

The only thing I can think of that would be culturally equivalent would be "очкарик" but semantically, the meaning is different even if there's some idiomatic overlap.

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I wonder if these two words can be considered together at all. In my experience, a geek is someone keen about, overinterested in something, usually some technology: computer geek, Internet geek, LaTeX geek. So it just describes an attitude to something. On the contrary, a nerd is a social type of a person. S/he may not be especially interested in anything in particular. –  texnic Feb 23 '13 at 8:59
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@texnic, as an aside, English have gender neutral pronoun they to use when the gender is ambiguous. There is no need to invent and use strange concoctions like s/he. –  theUg Feb 23 '13 at 17:16
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@texnic - yes, I'm quite familiar with nuances between geek and nerd. However, I'm unsure if a russian idiom (if any) exists for only one of them, or both at the same time, thus lumping both together –  DVK Feb 23 '13 at 18:16
    
@theUg: I haven't of course invented this form (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/s/he), but I do appreciate the reminder. I've spent the last five years in Germany, and they here do use a similar thing all the time Mitarbeiter(in). –  texnic Feb 24 '13 at 7:46
    
@texnic - This seems slightly more important in German due to Das/Der distinction, no? –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 15:51

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Ботаник looks like a good candidate. Often shortened to ботан.

Interestingly, Russian Wikipedia links from Ботаник to гик and нёрд.

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Botanik looks to be the closest. I don't think гик and нёрд are familiar to majority of non-nerdy population, though. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 2:13
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An explanation for the down vote is common courtesy. –  Dima Feb 24 '13 at 3:18
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In my opinion Ботаник is suitable for nerd, but not for geek. And word гик is widely used (in narrow communities) while нерд/нёрд is substituted with ботаник. –  WhiteWind Mar 5 '13 at 1:33

While there are not direct equivalents to geek, and nerd, we can find some terms that can match them closely, depending on context.

  • According to OED definition, geek is “an unfashionable or socially inept person”, with the sub-sense of “a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast” (emphasis mine). If we stress the obsessiveness of that enthusiasm, then the translations чо́кнутый (cracked 2., batty 1, also тронутый (touched)) and поме́шанный (insane; literally: messed (up)) often given by on-line dictionaries are suitable. Moreover, they line up with original etymology of geek (“related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly’”). But these words do not necessarily imply “social ineptitude”, although they are usually used with disapproval to describe someone who is way too much into something or someone.

  • Nerd, who is defined by OED as “a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious”, is easy to match by the word бота́ник (literally: botanist, shortened as ботан or бата́н). Why this discipline of biology acquired such dubious distinction is unclear, but there is a version that looks more like a folk etymology (as I have not seen a serious source on the subject), but it actually makes sense.

    In 1825 classic of Russian literature, Griboyedov’s satire Woe from Wit (Горе от ума), there is a passage in Act III, where the Duchess talks about her nephew who is so involved in studying chemistry and botany that he is not interested in women or a career:

    Нет, в Петербурге институт
    Пе-да-го-гический, так, кажется, зовут:
    Там упражняются в расколах и в безверьи,
    Профессоры!! — У них учился наш родня,
    И вышел! Хоть сейчас в аптеку, в подмастерьи.
    От женщин бегает, и даже от меня!
    Чинов не хочет знать! Он химик, он ботаник,
    Князь Фёдор, мой племянник.

    The word очкарик (one who wears glasses), while a good alternative, obviously limits its application to people whose sight had suffered from all that studying. On the contrary, why some dictionaries list зануда (bore, pest) as the first choice translation for nerd is beyond my comprehension. The word умник, while originally may have had a positive sense of someone who is laudably intelligent, now became to mean to address someone (usually in a form of exclamation) who is “too clever” and knows too much for their own good.

On a related topic, as a warning, while the word ботаник came to be strongly associated with nerdiness, the informal meaning of the word химик (chemist) and related slang verb химичить (“do chemistry”) are usually used to describe someone doing some inappropriately dangerous tinkering, messing things up.

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умник is most accurately translated as "smarass" or "smart alec" IMHO. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 15:49
    
@DVK, what I said. –  theUg Feb 24 '13 at 17:21

Задрот if you need strong negative connotation. That’s usually male, in his teens or older, with weird appearance and no girlfriend.

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Задрот seems more correllated to gamers who play games over and over again. There is some overlap with geeks/nerds but only slight one. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 2:14
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@DVK, not necessarily gamers, but anyone doing something repeatedly. And, obviously, negative as it describes someone who masturbates awful lot. –  theUg Feb 24 '13 at 6:51

It is worthwhile to note that if the text is addressed to young tech-savvy (and yeah, geeky) audience, the word гик will be understanded by most. There are almost 2 million mentions of the word found by Google. However, the calque нерд or нёрд is used much less frequently, so translations suggested by other answers (ботаник, ботан or задрот, in the order of increasing negative connotation) should be used.

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Hерд or нёрд is not a calque but a loanword. –  Manjusri Mar 4 '13 at 12:57

"Зубрила" may be what you are looking for. Also "зануда" if you want negative connotation

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зануда is kind of very different. More like wet blanket or downer equivalent. –  DVK Feb 23 '13 at 18:17
    
@DVK, I touched on зануда in my answer, but зубрила is actually closer to home. –  theUg Feb 24 '13 at 7:04

Умник, from the root ум (mind).

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