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Suddenly, it's cool to be a geek.

Separating themselves from their awkward cousins - nerds and dorks - geeks are confident in social gatherings, said Chattanoogan Don Sayers.

"I believe a geek is a nerd with social skills," said Sayers, 22, owner of Chattanooga Computer Repair (iFixie.com) and a self-avowed geek. "Geeks can be fanatics of pretty much anything - science fiction, books, technology, comics, toys, TV shows."

The word geek has been around since 1914, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But its meaning has changed dramatically.

Originally geek was a term used to describe "a carnival performer, often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake," according to the dictionary.

The modern dictionary definition of geek is: "An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity."

Pop culture is reshaping the geek persona. The CBS sitcom "Big Bang Theory," for example, features several geeky friends as they navigate life as near-geniuses.

It's a great time to be a geek, Sayers said.

"The acceptance of geeky people has changed in the last few years. It has always been a war between jocks and geeks," he said. "But now everyone has become accepting with their inner geek. This is a great thing. People can be themselves without anyone judging them."

Katie Guffey, 24, a PetSmart employee who calls herself a geek, said she is proud of her status.

"Geek is not such a negative word anymore because it just means you're really into something," she said.

Guffey said she evolved into a geek throughout her childhood.

"It's not knowing where you fit between the adult world and the kid world," she said. "You have to find someone who appreciates your passion, and, as a child, that's hard to do.

"Geeks, in general, are people who are passionate about something and when they start talking about it, they get excited and you get excited listening to them," she said. "It's cool because they appreciate your excitement and you appreciate theirs."

Geeks, as a rule, do not follow fashion trends, she said. "We wear clothes that take the minimal amount of effort to pick up off the floor," she said. "We'll pay $300 for a phone, but we won't pay over 30 bucks for a shirt."

Some clothing companies cater to geeks including jinx.com, which opened for business in 1999. Their clothing lines include T-shirts and caps that promote role-playing/video games such as World of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, Star Craft, and more.

Many geeks sport tattoos, said Guffey.

"When I was hanging out in gaming cafes, I noticed that a lot of geeks had pop culture tattoos about movies, comics, and video games," she said. "I have five."

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