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The Nerd Rosetta Stone

A good friend of mine got married the other weekend out in Sioux Lookout, and after an eight-hour detour to pick up a good friend in Thunder Bay I found myself, and many of my nerd friends, in a small town in northern Ontario. Somewhere where we very obviously didn’t belong.

Sioux Lookout.

My friend Bryan grew up in Winnipeg, where I met him playing Magic. He is one of the smartest guys I know, and when he finished his pharmacy degree, he up and moved to Sioux Lookout for work. Sure enough, a few years later he’s engaged and all his Magic buddies are on their way to the Sioux for a wedding.

Personally, I love weddings. “Open bar” are two of my favorite words in the English language, and when coupled with “dance party”, well, let’s just say my thighs hurt for the next two days because I danced so much. More importantly, though, I had all of my closest friends, a weekend off, way too much alcohol, a cabin, and a lot of nerdy pastimes on hand. I have often said that if you were to record all my friends and I together in a room it would make for an entertaining sitcom. Like nerdy Cheers. There would be only one problem: nobody would have any idea what the hell we were saying.

Nerds have a more bastardized and aggressively changing dialect than any other group of people on the planet. We are constantly surrounding ourselves with things outside of mainstream culture, our interests change extremely rapidly, and mostly we’ve gotten over being embarrassed about ourselves. Even as the world tries to catch up, we are already in another time zone. This is never more apparent than when I get a large group of my friends together and put them in a room with people not privy to our many inside jokes. As we played games and got increasingly intoxicated, our speech patterns became more and more privileged. We very nearly speak in an entirely different language, and you don’t truly realize it until there are outsiders there to call you out.

Another, maybe more quantifiable, example would be the board game Taboo. If you’ve never played Taboo, a single player from a team is given a word and a series of “taboo” words. He is tasked with getting his teammates to say the word without saying the taboo words. You do this as many times as you can in one minute to score points. Now it sounds simple enough, but under the pressure of the clock and with anomia striking it can be difficult… until you have an entirely different language to play in that still falls within the constraints of the rules.

For example: the word might be “core”, and the taboo words might be things like: “middle”, “center”, “planet”, “fruit”, and “apple”. Without those words, it can be hard to describe that word for many people. However, I would look at my friends and say “WoW raid, Molten blank.” Easy: Molten Core. If nobody plays WoW, I would say “pre-requisite for dragoons.” Easy, cybernetics core. If nobody plays Starcraft, I would say, “Carry, mid, and off-lane are the three blank.” Easy, three cores. The taboo words in the nerd version of the game would be totally different than the ones in the normal game. This is all without slang, inside jokes, and obscure references.

One of the friends who came out to the wedding brought his wife along with him. An extremely intelligent (and attractive) woman, a pharmacist by trade, she joined us one evening for a night of drinking and games. The next day she confessed that nearly all of the time, she had no idea what we were saying. It made me consider the things I was saying at a literal level.

When my friends say something stupid, I like to say, “Individually I understand all of those words, but together, and in that order, I have no idea what they mean.” Now, I mean it in a humorous and sarcastic manner, but it is certainly applicable to this situation. As I stand on one foot and lean sideways and yell “get in,” or someone asks me “what’s it like,” you may know what those words all mean to you, but I promise that to my friends and me they mean something totally different. Or even more obscure terms: “I’m tapped out” means I don’t have any means to help you out, “hellbent” means I’m currently out of whatever it is we are currently talking about, and how could I expect people to know these things? Yet, unconsciously, they slip into my everyday vernacular. When I accidentally tell my dad I have “no responses,” he looks at me like I’m an idiot, and rightfully so. It becomes part of who you are and it can be difficult to go back to proper English terms on the flip of a switch.

Next time you’re with a group of your close friends, or even just people you spend a lot of time with, stop and consider the things you’re saying. Do they make always make sense? How much of it is a personal colloquialism? Most importantly, and trust me the answer is no, do you think you could beat me at Taboo?

Tyler Morse is a Contributing Editor to

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