Trivia

Hard

The Term “Geek” Originally Referred To?

Circus Performers
Computer Engineers
Astronauts
RPG Enthusiasts
Photograph of a crowd heading towards the marquee tent of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1935.
Harry A. Atwell/Wikimedia

Answer: Circus Performers

Today, the term geek refers to someone enthusiastic about a particular subject or hobby—the name of Mind Bounce’s sister website, How-To Geek, reflects the tech-obsessed staff’s intense focus on writing how-to guides. The website Board Game Geek is the biggest board game website around, with a singular and obsessive focus on the subject.

But geek didn’t always have such a connotation. In early English and German, the word meant a foolish person (a meaning for the German word “geck”, which persists to this day). Later, in 18th century Austria, “Gecken” were circus freaks. The terminology jumped across the Atlantic in the 19th century and was adopted by North American circuses where geeks were performers in a geek show, which was just another name for a freak show with people that had curious talents, physical deformities, or other skills and characteristics that could be used to shock the public.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the word began to shift in meaning (the 1976 American Heritage Dictionary made no mention of the word “geek” beyond its circus performer connotation). By the 1980s, however, it was firmly cemented in pop culture with its modern meaning and is now in common usage.

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