Like That's A Bad Thing—Professor Calls Nerds "Hyperwhite"
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I saw a discussion of this on the Just One Minute blog, where Tom Maguire says

“So young white nerds today are traitors to their whiteness by not pretending to be hip-hop gangstas? Could someone please just cap me with a nine right now? But quietly – people are sleeping…”.

Apparently a linguist at the University of California, Mary Bucholtz, [send her extremely grammatical mail] has spent 12 years studying “nerds” and wrote a paper in 2001 called The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness [PDF] which is part of the whiteness studies phenomenon. Just saying “phenomenon” I get a rush of nerdiness to the the head.

Who’s a Nerd, Anyway?


New York Times

July 29, 2007 Idea Lab

What is a nerd? Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been working on the question for the last 12 years. She has gone to high schools and colleges, mainly in California, and asked students from different crowds to think about the idea of nerdiness and who among their peers should be considered a nerd; students have also “reported” themselves. Nerdiness, she has concluded, is largely a matter of racially tinged behavior. People who are considered nerds tend to act in ways that are, as she puts it, “hyperwhite.”

You really need to read the whole thing–one part of nerdiness is not using African-American slang. Which I suppose means actually keeping it real. With a “g” at the end of “keeping,” and everything.

Apparently that “g” is a sign of being so white it hurts:

As a linguist, Bucholtz understands nerdiness first and foremost as a way of using language. In a 2001 paper, “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness,” and other works, including a book in progress, Bucholtz notes that the “hegemonic” “cool white” kids use a limited amount of African-American vernacular English; they may say “blood” in lieu of “friend,” or drop the “g” in “playing.” But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English.

And I'm sure you will all appreciate this aspect of the nerdiness problem:

On the other hand, the code of conspicuous intellectualism in the nerd cliques Bucholtz observed may shut out “black students who chose not to openly display their abilities.” This is especially disturbing at a time when African-American students can be stigmatized by other African-American students if they’re too obviously diligent about school. Even more problematic, “Nerds’ dismissal of black cultural practices often led them to discount the possibility of friendship with black students,” even if the nerds were involved in political activities like protesting against the dismantling of affirmative action in California schools. If nerdiness, as Bucholtz suggests, can be a rebellion against the cool white kids and their use of black culture, it’s a rebellion with a limited membership.

Of course, if you do somehow acquire the hyper-correct language disease, you can be a copy-editor like me–I've only used the word “farizzle” in conversation once in my life.

(I couldn't resist:

EARNEST YOUNG FELLOW:"Sir, I think that older people sound foolish when they try to use the younger people's slang expressions, don't you?”


But really, this is probably a symptom of something important, and it makes me wish we had Sam Francis still around to write about it.


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