Hate speech row: Fine or jail anyone who calls people boffins, geeks or eggheads, psychology nerd demands

'Divisive and humiliating' terms are bad as the N-word, uni lecturer argues

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Labeling super-smart people with terms like nerd, geek, or boffin is hate speech, and should be punishable as such, argues lecturer and Harley-Street psychotherapist Dr Sonja Falck.

Likewise wonk, smarty-pants, and know-it-all: these terms are "divisive and humiliating," and the “last taboo,” the University of East London egghead said this week while promoting her new book about brainiacs. Such “anti-IQ” words set society's Einsteins apart, she claimed, with the result that geeks end up “feeling like they’re a misfit and don’t belong.”

Calling someone a swot, whizkid, brainbox, smart-arse, or dweeb may seem “harmless banter,” but it is equivalent to hate speech, she reckons, and should be recognized as such in British law – with punishments including fines and imprisonment. “It is only with the benefit of hindsight and academic research that we realise how wrong we were,” she added.

That academic research includes her new book titled Extreme Intelligence, for which she interviewed 20 nerds for 90 minutes about when they realized they were so very clever.

She then embarked on a “contextual analysis of literature” and decided that calling someone a boffin was equivalent to the worst racial slurs. "The N-word was common parlance in the UK until at least the 1960s,” she said during her book launch, before noting that "other insulting slurs about age, disability, religion and gender identity remained in widespread use until relatively recently.”

Dr Falck does not have a chip on her shoulder, despite the fact that the whole idea behind the book stemmed from the fact that as a child she was offered a place at a school for gifted children but her mother turned it down because she feared it would result in her becoming socially difficult.

Psychosocial, qu'est-ce que c'est?

In the book she focuses on psychosocial questions surrounding those with extremely high intelligence, and bases her arguments on depictions of genius in the media and fictional works as well as the 20 people she spoke to. She comes to the conclusion that these super-geeks all had formative experiences of being set apart from others, partly because of how they behaved, and partly because of how people responded to their behavior.

Which all feels a little self-selecting. Of the 20 people Dr Falck spoke to, 16 of them were members of Mensa, a social club that adopted the famous IQ test in an effort to form a society of intelligent people. These days that elitist British mindset is airbrushed and Mensa’s goal is said to be “to create a society that is non-political and free from all racial or religious distinctions.”

In the UK if you pay £24.95 for the IQ test and score over 132, you can then pay £59.95 a year to receive a newsletter and attend events with other people who have also paid up to be in a room with people who scored highly on the same intelligence test.

Dr Falck has identified a specific subset of intelligent people who have difficulty fitting in socially and then noted that people use specific terms to refer to them; terms that they don’t like because it highlights the fact that they are socially awkward.

At what point does identifying any specific group and giving that group a name or names move from useful, everyday categorization and extend into victimization or prejudicial behavior? It’s when the names are used in a purposefully derogatory way. And that depends on both those being called the names, and broader society, accepting them as purely negative, she argues.

Do all the words identified by Falck fit into that category? Not where we sit they don’t: nerd, geek, and boffin are terms of praise at El Reg.

But for those offended by that argument, we would refer you to the words of celebrated moron Stephen Hawking who, when asked what his IQ score was, responded: “I have no idea. People who boast about their IQ are losers.” ®

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