hotforwordsThere’s plenty of important and educational stuff on the Web. But who wants to look at that stuff when we can use the internet to watch Pearl the landlord hassling Will Ferrell or bunch of Ivy Leaguers rapping about keeping it real [“high tea in the parlor makes the ladies holler”]. Add one more guilty pleasure to the list — Hot for Words.

Here’s the premise: A couple times a week, Marina Orlova posts a video blog on her Web site and on YouTube detailing the origin of a word or phrase. Oh — and she’s Russian. And hot. And shows plenty of cleavage. Ok basically it’s like a PG-rated Playboy video blog. [I swear — I only watch it to learn the word origins!]

In a recent video, Marian explored the etymology of the word “nerd.” While part of her explanation was correct — the first documented use of the word “nerd” was in 1950 in the Dr. Suess book “If I Ran The Zoo” — she fails to fully explain how the word came to be used as slang to describe someone who is bookish and nonsocial.

There really is no clear answer. An in-depth thesis on the subject is posted at Jim Burrows’ Web site. He notes that while the Dr. Suess book has a drawing of a nerd, it never describes what a nerd is other than a creature from the land of Ka-Troo.

A year after the Suess book was published, Newsweek magazine published a story that had a reference to nerd:

In Detroit, someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd, or in a less severe case, a scurve. [Oct. 15, 1951, page 16]

but the article never describes how the definition came about.

Some alumni from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute argue that the term comes from the word “knurd,” which is drunk spelled backwards. These folks claim the word was coined to differentiate the non-drinkers from the drunks. But as Burrows points out, the earliest documentation of knurd occurred in 1965.

The word gained popularity in the 1970s, in large part because of its heavy usage on the T.V. show “Happy Days.” By this time, the word’s definition had expanded from describing a person as a “square” to  characterizing someone as smart but lacking social grace.