Originally written for The Nerd Puddle – July 26th 2011
For as mainstreamed and matured as geek culture has become, there are still bits of social awkwardness and discomfort that cling to this phenomenon like a square of toilet paper on the bottom of nerdkind’s shoe. And while the nerds have risen and major media is shining all sorts of spotlights on us, its hard to dodge that a large part of what makes a nerd a nerd, is basic social ineptitude. Not too many essays are being written about that. Not when being a nerd is a good thing now. In fact, as the saying goes, the best way to find The Nerd in any room is to listen for the guy telling everyone that they’re not cool enough to be a Nerd.
And another dead giveaway, especially in any online conversation? The Nerd is the one who begins every single disagreement, correction or otherwise contentious statement with a variation on this three letter preface:
Sometimes it’s “umm…” sometimes it’s prefaced with a “so…” Sometimes they add a “yeah” to the beginning as a bit of a verbal flourish, an unintentional homage to one of cinemas blandest assholes, Bill Lumbergh. More creative types will add a dash of artistic flair by using ascii art to depict raised eyebrows or off-kilter looks before adding that single, drawn-out guttural noise.
Here’s the thing: it makes you sound like a giant dick.
It does. It’s maybe the most nonchalantly condescending thing you could do. And I know – as someone who has a long history on the internet of getting in petty fights with people over the dumbest shit imaginable – a little something about condescension as a weapon. Condescension as a means to assert empty intellectual superiority over someone who has a wrong opinion about a fictional universe that you’ve spent entirely too much time playing in; Time spent not learning valuable social skills that would alert you, if you cared about honestly communicating your ideas, that the worst thing you could do is preface anything you’re going to say with that empty-headed, dismissive noise.
And when used in text, it’s even doubly condescending/infuriating. Because you’re making a conscious choice to stick your shitty, insulting attitude into the discussion. In a verbal conversation, there’s an out. You can say “I was just trying to think of how best to form the sentence so as not to start a fight,” or “I was just looking for the right word,” which is in fact a thing that happens. People aren’t the quickest on their feet, verbally, and so that comma sneaks in there. .
But in text? There’s no excuse, and there’s no way to misinterpret that. That sound didn’t accidentally get typed into the keyboard. Those three letters and that ellipses? There’s a lot of meaning packed into that one syllable, and it is all mean-spirited and snotty as hell. It is a noise that is at its purest when coming out of a tilted-up nose, steered and sneered downwards at the intellectual plebe so tiresome you can barely make the effort to form an actual word in order to articulate your annoyance at how uneducated and misinformed they could dare to be.
“Uhh…” is the sound of ill-gained entitlement, of someone who feels unfairly burdened by a counterproductive job nobody asked them to do. “Uhh…” is the sound of someone who hasn’t yet learned that no matter how much they know, they still don’t know shit, and all they’re doing is sounding the call for someone smarter to come and kick their brain in the nuts. “Uhh…” is the sound of faux-superiority for dilettante poseurs.
You open your dialog with “Uhh…” or “Umm…” and you’re being a dick. You are. There’s no way around it. It doesn’t make you sound extra clever, it’s not funny like the shitty little comedy-relief sidekicks on your favorite childhood sitcoms made it look, it’s often just needlessly insulting, and beyond that, it’s lazy. If you’re going to insult someone’s intelligence, do it. Don’t just moo at them.
I understand the itchy need to correct people on the internet; I’m a nerd. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it, and in fact, you’ll probably end up making your point more clearly, increasing understanding and – most importantly – making more people agree with you about how right you are if you look at what you just vomited into the bottomless pit of the internet, and before you hit “post,” delete every bleating, stupid, time-and-space wasting instance of the condescending, conversation-killing brainfart that goes “uhh…”
Unless of course, you are the kind of insecure, socially inept, overcompensating nerd that needs to be a dick about things all the time. In which case, thank you for making such predilections easy to identify and scroll on by.