Erik Larson

Dec 17, 2008

Gettin' it Straight

The Credit Crisis. Auto bailouts. Stock market in turmoil. What does it mean, and who has the answers? Let’s start with some clarification of terms. Define your terms , as philosophers teach us. So I’ll try to do just that, and I’ll pick as my subject matter a set of terms that we constantly use, that have different meanings though it’s common to view subsets of them as in essence the same (or at least having substantial overlap), and that are particularly germaine given our current circumstances. The terms are:








Douche Bag

Dumb ass


Let’s get started. In what follows I’ll define the term, then offer some exemplar from popular culture to tack down the definition. I’m confident that the conflations will melt away, to the edification of all.

First, a geek. Contrary to popular opinion, a geek is not a nerd . Don’t conflate them, folks. A geek is someone that drills into a particular subject with a zest that borders on the maniacal. But (and this is important), he does his drilling at the expense of, say, hygiene, or social skills. The classic geek is the computer geek. Moooove . But geeks find homes in other technical disciplines as well. Nicholas Cage’s character in The Rock, Stanley Goodspeed, was a geek.

The nerd. Ah yes, the nerd. Nerds are boring, unathletic types that tend to fall into nerdy routines (like getting up at the same time, having coffee, listening to some soothing music, leaving the house at the same time, etc.). Nerds are terrible with the opposite sex, tend to be abstemious (being too “smart” for vice), and are by definition socially unattractive to non-nerds and in particular to members of the opposite sex that are non-nerds. In other words, they’re smart, with nothing else. Nerds. Classic nerd is Marty McFly, from Back to the Future. Also, Ross from Friends (though a borderline case, since Ross had a greater than zero chance that a woman would find him attractive).

Dorks. Dorks are nerds with less native intelligence. A dork looks and sounds like a nerd but talks about his car, or his recipe for Jalapeno macaroni salad. Dorks tend to watch a lot of sports on T.V., and may wear sports insignia, especially on dates, or to nice restaurants.

Tool. Interesting type, the tool. Tools are smart, mostly successful, with something more to offer than can be managed by geeks, nerds, or dorks. A tool will be at least one of: attractive, athletic, or sociable. Tools are tools essentially because they follow the rules. A tool made it into a good law school, dresses nice, may have an attractive mate, and refuses to buy beer for the neighbor kid (though he’s known him for years). A tool may inform on classmates for cheating. He rarely speeds. Tools generally end up running things. (Don’t worry, however, because they’re still tools.)

Jerk. Low class, mean spirited, don’t give a damn types. Chet from Weird Science. You can almost substitute “jackass” for jerk, though there is some small semantic difference.

Asshole. Jerks that have made something of themselves. Colonel Nathan R. Jessup from A Few Good Men. ‘Nuff said.

Prick. Pricks are assholes with an innate and ineradicable sense of entitlement. They’re high society about their assholiness. It’s an important distinction. You can’t call a prick an asshole without a palpable degree of imprecision: “No, he’s a prick , Bob. Get it straight”. Hardy Jenns, from the 1987 Some Kind of Wonderful, was a classic prick.

Douche Bag. The douche bag. This is generally a lower management type that makes everyone in the room (or office) go mum when he walks in. Like a Pez Dispenser he pops out company lines with a shitty smile, poring cold water all over your once hot but now extinguished conversation about the weekend’s activities, or the new girl in office 101. The douche bag would be a standard issue nerd or dork, only there’s an additional moral deficiency with the DB; the bag wants to climb up the management ladder, and at your expense . Go mum when you spot the Douche Bag. He’s only gonna cause you pain. (The silver lining, however, is that DBs tend to get their comeuppance, having more desire for Machiavellian conniving than actual ability, and tending always to repel all things cool. Exemplar? Hard to find. Best that comes to mind is Carter Burke, the character played by Paul Reiser in Aliens. Douche bag. But anyway in spite of the dearth of DBs in popular culture, I know several from past jobs. I bet you do too.)

Dumb ass. Nerds and even dorks may have something to say within their sphere of expertise, but dumb asses, by definition, always come up short. Dumb asses speak, and every non-dumb ass starts an imaginary stop watch, waiting for the cessation of dumb ass sounds. The “Oh” guy from Office Space is a classic dumb ass.

Pinwheel. A pinwheel is someone who may or not be smart about something, but seems drawn, like a moth to a flame, to sound off about other subjects about which he has only enthusiasm without accompanying expertise. Pinwheels come out of the woodwork when discussions turn to politics. Classic pinwheel? There are lots. Clooney can be a pinwheel, as can “green” actors like DiCaprio. In fact, pretty much any Hollywood actor with strong views on political issues is sure to adorn him or herself with fluffy pinwheel attire . Ashton Kutcher sounds more than a little pinwheely at times. These pinwheels, the Hollywood variety (a common strain of pinwheel), all suffer from the false belief that their sheer attractiveness somehow promotes their opinions to bedrock truth. Maybe, but only for other pinwheels (this is key). Also, fourteen year olds.

So there you have it. In the midst of these dire times, a get to the point, hard hitting, good ole’ fashioned linguistic analysis of the nouns whose referents we’re seeing more and more of these days. Let’s get it straight.