Equivalents of the word "nerd" in East Asia

Based on what my parents told me, there is no equivalent for nerd in Taiwan.

Among Asian-Americans, we use the word nerd in a similar manner to the word slut; i.e., use it to shame other people, but secretly do it ourselves.

宅男 (based on the Japanese otaku)

This became popular way after your parents’ time, so not their fault for not knowing it.


Cool. What is the exact definition? Some bookish person?

Originally derogatory, the term “nerd” was a stereotype, but as with other pejoratives, it has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.

Haven’t heard anyone use nerd in a derogatory manner.

Someone who stays at home all the time (to persue hobbies of geeky nature)



Someone who stays at home all the time (to persue hobbies of geeky nature)


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Is a nerd who is only great at studying and not physical activities? Or is any fan boy or geek a nerd? We need to have a clear definition of our terminology here… Does that sound too nerdy? Well, too late…

I think 宅男 doesn’t quite fit my definition of a nerd or a geek. The term original meaning of the term in Japanese means someone who is way too into anime subculture and as a result never leaves the house.

In Taiwan, the not going outdoors part is the main criteria of being a 宅男. So there is no requirement of being book smart or being a fan of something to be a 宅男 in Taiwan.

For a closer match to how I think of the word nerd, I think 書呆子 or 書蟲 would probably fit better in modern terminology.


It’s not an exact equivalent of nerd, but pretty similar. It’s someone who has an obsessive interest in nerdy things like comics and collectibles, likely to be introverted and lacking in social skills, and who spends most of their free time at home.

I guess there’s overlap among all these terms, but I’d say 宅男 is closer to nerd than 書呆子. Also, it seems like 書呆子 and 書蟲 aren’t really used much these days.

Should also be mentioned that 宅 can be used as an adjective like nerdy, i.e. 他很宅.


Google Translate gives 書呆子 as the default translation. Wikipedia suggests 怪胎 or 怪咖, which to mean would fit the term “a freak” better. Although, in addition to being book smart and bad at sports, having poor social skills is also a key criteria of being a nerd. So I guess it also fits. In that case 宅 can imply someone who is socially awkward. Although it could also mean that one can interact with others just fine, but just rather chill out at home.

Man, high school kids are really mean.

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And who is not interested in mixing with the opposite sex? I always got that feeling but maybe I read too much into it.

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In my experience, the kids in elementary school were much meaner. :grin:

By the way, to be absolutely clear about being derogatory, the term 肥宅 is often used, regardless of whether the person is actually fat or not.

There’s a stereotype that a 肥宅 (fat otaku) is also a 魯蛇 (loser)

In the Taiwanese version, nerds only interact with women at car shows and comic conventions by worshiping 宅男女神.

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Yeah, that’s pretty harsh. Fat otaku need love too.

It’s also interesting that these derogatory terms are all loan words from English and Japanese…

It is. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that bookishness doesn’t have the negative connotations in Chinese/Taiwanese culture that it does in other places.


Traditionally the one truly negative term I could think of relating to bookishness is 腐儒 (Rotten Confucian) referring to over zealous Confucian scholars who have no grasp on reality.


East Asia? You mean the geographic region composed of several different countries, cultures and language groups?

Or maybe you just meant Taiwan?

Or maybe he meant East Asia.

Makes sense. According to the samurai ethic you’re not supposed to sit at home and read books all day.

Also, the Japanese were surprised Taiwan had no local song and dance.