The following post was originally written for and posted on the Circus Geeks website. Circus Geeks is a random collection of Circus Artists who share their passion, knowledge and experience with the rest of the world. I thought I’d share it with you here…
The Original Post
I thought it appropriate that if we were to go around calling ourselves Circus Geeks that we take a moment to explore Geeks, or Geekdom as the collective sub-culture is sometimes known. Being a geek myself, I started by looking up the word in the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word geek as:
1 : A carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.
2 : A person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3 : an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity *computer geek*
A carnival performer? In the first definition? Interesting. I would have assumed that the second or third definition would have been the primary definition. Let’s leave the fact that is says geeks bite the heads off live chickens for a moment and take a quick look at the origins of the the word geek.
It turns out the word geek actually has its origins in carnival and circus. Etymonline.com describes the history of the word geek in the following way:
“sideshow freak,” 1916, U.S. carnival and circus slang, perhaps a variant of geck “a fool, dupe, simpleton” (1510s), apparently from Low Ger. geck, from an imitative verb found in North Sea Germanic and Scandinavian meaning “to croak, cackle,” and also “to mock, cheat.” The modern form and the popular use with reference to circus sideshow “wild men” is from 1946, in William Lindsay Gresham’s novel “Nightmare Alley” (made into a film in 1947 starring Tyrone Power).
So the original geeks were fools and sideshow freaks and over time it came to be applied to anyone who got paid to do work considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society. Nowadays you’re a geek if you are particularly knowledgeable in any particular field, especially if it involves technology (computer programmers were the original tech geeks, an activity that was considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society a number of years ago) or is a subject that most people wouldn’t know too much about.
And so here we are: Circus Geeks – circus folk geeking out on an internet blog about circus. It seems we have finally come home.