I recently threw my back out for the first time, marking my maiden voyage to the chiropractor. Right before she put me in a headlock adjusted me, the doctor reviewed my scans and announced: “Jessica, you are a mess- a big walking back spasm.”

Ouch.  This sounded vaguely like an insult….kind of like getting called a spaz in high school. But I wasn’t a spaz in high school, I was a dork.  I played the mellophone in the marching band.  I wore overalls.

But then I started thinking…about the mouth guard I now wear for teeth grinding…my aggressive ear cleaning…how I can’t run on a treadmill without tripping…and my Elaine Benes-style dance moves….

Oh my god.  I AM a spaz. When did this happen?  At what point did I cross over from dork to spaz?

Maybe instead of growing out of these adolescent stereotypes, we actually just change categories.  To re-familiarize myself with these personality types and where I fall in the continuum, I created the DoNGS (Dork, Nerd, Geek or Spaz) Meter.

Are You a Dork?

Dork (n): Unlike Geeks and Nerds, Dorks are defined by personality traits versus intellect. Whether it be their sense of humor, fashion sense, or lack of social awareness, dorks are unapologetically authentic. Silly, goofy, and extroverted, dorks are either oblivious to or unconcerned with being cool or popular.

  • Do you/have you worn a t-shirt that looks like a tuxedo, socks and sandals, pants that are too short to be pants but too long to be capris, seasonal sweaters or jewelry, a kilt, a man purse or a fanny pack, or marching band shoes designed specifically for “foot rolling.”
  • Do you snort when you laugh?
  • Do you use rhyming phrases like “Even Steven,” “Okey Dokey,” or “Geez Louise?”
  • Do you or have you worn orthodontic headgear or orthopedic shoes?
  • Did you drive a minivan before you had children?
  • Do you shun fashion for comfort?

Notable Dorks: Napoleon Dynamite, Lloyd Dobbler, Tina Fey

Are You a Nerd?

Nerd (n): a highly intellectual individual committed to the acquisition of knowledge. A nerd is too focused on academic pursuits to be bothered with looking cool or fitting in.  Often socially awkward, a nerd tends to be reserved in a non-academic setting. Talkative only when discussing area of expertise, i.e. Civil War generals, applied mathematics, 19th century Irish poetry, etc.

  • Did you graduate with a 4.0?
  • Did the idea of getting a “C” or below make you want to hang yourself?
  • Do you successfully complete the New York Times crossword?
  • Do you consider Tolstoy or Chekov “beach reading?”
  • Are you/were you a member of National Honor Society, Phi Beta Kappa, or Mathletes?
  • Do you listen to NPR for more than 1 hour a day?
  • Do you have a PBS tote bag?
  • Do you consider academic lectures, poetry readings, or museum visits “going out?”

Notable Nerds: Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Anthony Michael Hall/The Breakfast Club, Hillary Clinton

Are You a Geek?

Geek (n): a person with a large amount of knowledge and eccentric devotion to one particular “niche” interest or hobby, often but not restricted to technology and computers.  While geeks may be of high intelligence, a high IQ is not a prerequisite for Geekdom.  While nerds tend to be seekers of knowledge, geeks focus on one particular area of expertise.  Nerds are thinkers, geeks are doers: they tinker, fiddle, play, accumulate and collect.

  • Do you collect: stamps, baseball cards, comic books, action figures/dolls, coins, video games, or vinyl records?
  • Can you recite Chase Utley’s OBP during the ’08 World Series?
  • Is your nightstand full of Java or .Net manuals?
  • Do you own a specialized dictionary or encyclopedia (Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins, Field Guide to North American Birds, etc.)?
  • Do you attend events that require you to dress up in costume?
  • Do you spend more than 5 hours a week watching a cable network dedicated exclusively to your area of interest (The Golf Channel, History Channel, HGTV)?
  • Do you belong to a running club?
  • Do you brew your own beer?
  • Does your house have a “craft corner?”

Notable Geeks: Stephen King, Leonard Nimoy, Martha Stewart

Are You a Spaz?

Spaz (n): a hyperactive, goofy, overly energetic, irrationally jumpy or clumsy person.  Often exhibit an excessive startle response. Prone to freaking out, twitching, and temporary loss of mind/body control.  Typically lack a filter while conversing, blurting out whatever comes to mind.  May require medication to unwind.

  • Have you ever worn a helmet, mouth guard, or other protective clothing while NOT engaged in a sport?
  • Do you sweat when you are nervous?
  • Do you unconsciously bite your nails, grind your teeth, or tap your foot ?
  • Have you ever caused accidental injury to a sexual partner?
  • Can you not be trusted with sharp or heavy objects out of fear of injury (chopping knives, razor blades, bowling balls)?
  • Have you ever been in a car accident where no other (moving) vehicle was involved?
  • Do you often wake up in the morning thinking, “Did I really say that?”

Notable Spazs: The Donger, Jim Carrey, Kimmie Gibler from Full House

According to the DoNGS Meter, I am about 70% spaz, 30% dork- and I am ok with that.  As an adult, I wear these once-negative-labels with pride.  Age and experience shed some light on what dorks, nerds, geeks, and spazs really are: Individuals.  Free thinkers.  Nonconformists.  Trailblazers.

They are different.

It’s all a matter of perspective. As a teenager, being different can seem catastrophic.  Then somewhere along the way you begin to realize that celebrating your uniqueness is the key to success. A dork is comfortable in her own skin, giving others permission to do the same. A geek is committed and curious; the resident expert in topics most of us know nothing about.  A spaz throws herself (literally) into everything she does; she is passionate about getting shit accomplished.  And nerds….well nerds pretty much run our country and sign our paychecks.

So wherever you are on the DoNGS Meter – celebrate it.




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