I’m not a nerd, he’s a nerd: slang for nerd status

I’ve been reading Talk The Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures, which anyone interested in language should own. It’s a glossary, divided by group, of the inside talk used by people who participate in certain activities. There’s a lot of revealing information in the book. In particular, I’m interested in the use of slang to define the status within groups that are looked down upon.

Take a look at the historical reenactor section. Unlike the stamp collectors, they have words dividing themselves up into people who are too serious, just the right amount of serious or not serious enough. In their eyes it’s the people who are too serious that people outside the group are making fun of and rightly so. The book lists three terms for those people “button pissers”, “thread counters” and “soap eaters”.

Here are the definitions given in the book:

Button Pisser: A person fanatically devoted to authenticity. Reputed refers to a reenactor so dedicated that he’d urinate on metal buttons he intends to use for his uniform so as to discolor them properly (although it’s not clear that anyone actually does this.)

Soap Eater: A joking term used to imply that a person is so obsessed with authenticity that he would eat soap, as starving soldiers are said to have done in the Civil War.

Thread Counter: A person so obsessed with authenticity that he will criticize the weave of the cloth in a costume or uniform.

And one (well kinda 2) term(s) for people who aren’t serious enough:

Motel Militia: (synonym: Ramada Rangers) Reenactors who sleep in hotels and are otherwise not trying to achieve a 24/7 depiction of the historical period.

So you don’t want to be a button pisser, but also not motel militia. Those historical reenactors have to walk a find line to fall into the acceptable range. It is amazing how groups of people can be so clearly defined by the slang they use.

What do the derogatory terms you use for other people reveal about you?


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