It's the laugh. That obnoxious giggle that ends in a full-fledged snort. That's the mark of a true nerd.
Jeremy Kahn has it. Naturally. He is the founder, president and ideological spokesman for the newly formed Society of Nerds and Geeks--or SONG--at Harvard University.
If Veritas (truth) is the motto of Harvard and Vanitas is the motto of the Harvard Lampoon, then the slogan of SONG is "Veritas is more important than Vanitas," explained Kahn, 20, a junior majoring in math.
"The kind of people we're looking for are very interested in what they're studying. Not as worried about--like--what other people think about them," said Kahn, who punctuates a lot of his sentences with "like."
"Truth is more important than to look good," he added.
Everyone knows or has known a nerd or a geek. A nerd was that brainy math major in college, the one with the thick glasses, the perpetual pocket calculator and plaid shirt. A geek was a guy--or gal--who wore mismatched socks or strange color combinations and walked to the beat of a drummer no one else heard.
Nerds, however, go on to invent amazing new machines and make millions on the patents. Geeks go on to found new companies and become the CEO featured on Fortune's cover for their maverick style. Nerds and geeks always have the last laugh.
Will nerds inherit the earth? No, but they might just save it, according to Kahn.
The first step, he says, is to help take the stigma off students who live to study, not party. SONG, organized in mid-October by Kahn, aims to do that with meetings, speakers and other activities. "Basically it's putting academics ahead of social life."
With about 35 members, SONG meets weekly and fosters discussions on how to study better and improve academic standings.
"We talk about--like--why grades are important to us or how we see relationships, which may seem strange for nerds and geeks to talk about," said Kahn. And he laughed that nerdy laugh.
Future plans for SONG include lectures, off-beat dances for those slightly out of step and a special "procrastination hot line." This would involve a "kind, caring and generous counselor" to talk with students who simply can't get down to work.
"I think students procrastinate more than anyone else. It's amazing how much time I spend procrastinating," Kahn said. A hot line could get students "on the road to recovery. In 10 minutes they'd be sitting down and getting to work."
Kahn had been thinking about organizing some kind of club since he entered Harvard. "Freshman year I found myself very isolated. For the first time in my life I could not concentrate on studies. No organization that would, like, help me concentrate on studies."
So he thought up the name Society of Nerds and Geeks, registered it with the proper Harvard authorities and began having meetings. Most members are math majors, but other disciplines are represented as well, such as Sanskrit.
The club's graduate student adviser, Leonid Fridman, has written a "Nerd Manifesto" about the dangers of anti-intellectualism. Yet the alumni adviser is the assistant coach of the Harvard wrestling team, proving that nerds and jocks aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
"The role of women in SONG isn't any different from that of men. We are equal-opportunity nerds," said freshman Kate Tulenko, an 18-year-old biochemistry major.
There's a funny saying going around Harvard, "Blessed are the nerds and geeks for they will become trend-setters," Kahn said. And then he laughed--like a nerd.