As I finished watching Revenge of the Nerds, it occurred to me that I had no idea where the word nerd came from. According to The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, nerd is listed as originating around 1965 in hot-rod and surfing slang, although it was in oral use prior to 1955. It originally meant "a foolish or ineffectual person," and it derives from the similar word nert, which meant a crazy or stupid person.
I bring this up not to turn a review of a mid-'80s gross-out college satire into an exercise in academic pedantry, but to help illuminate some of what is happening in Revenge of the Nerds below its comedic surface. I find it interesting that nerd originally conveyed a sense of stupidity or foolishness, because that seems to be quite the opposite of the meaning used in the movie (and in modern discourse, in general). Rather, the nerds here are intelligent, creative, innovative, and cunning.
In short, if there is any "ineffectualness" here, it is simply in the nerds' inability to conform to the mainstream. It is their outsider status that marks them as nerds, and they are outsiders because they have different priorities.
What Revenge of the Nerds makes clear, in both the story and its title, which humorously suggests a horror movie of sorts, is that "beautiful people" (jocks, sorority girls, cheerleaders, etc.) don't truly dislike nerds. Rather, they fear them. This is a key distinction, and it is one that I think often slips through the cracks because being feared is a form of power. Nerds are to be feared because, early in life, they seem weak, ineffective, and outside the social body. Yet, as time passes, the simple fact is that nerds become powerful while beautiful people, whose position in the social stratum...