Yesterday I was going to call some one "Streber". But I wasn't actually sure about the meaning so I went to leo.org and looked it up. The first suggestions had been "nerd" and "geek", what made me confused since I thought they are terms to express some ones expertness or maybe addiction to computers. So I looked up "nerd", which indeed translated to "Computerfreak" but also into "Streber". But this is actually confusing me. Because these are in my view two totally different things. Under certain circumstances I would even consider these German terms being contradicting each other.

While, on the one hand, a "Computerfreak" from my understanding is someone who tends to spend all his time at the PC and may even lose sight of other stuff like exercising if not related to computers, a "Streber", on the other hand, is AFAIK someone whose highest goal is getting stuff done for his own benefits while not letting anything distract him from it (like spending time on computers).
I actually found "grind" is most fitting for what I was looking for, but the question remained.

How does it come that an English word has two German meanings which may even contradict with each other?
Is this usual or an exceptional case?

In case this is a problem of the English language and its way of usage for the terms "nerd" and "geek", this is probably the wrong platform and I'm asking for migration to "English language & usage"-SE.

But at the moment of posting I can't know what's the cause of the problem so I decided this site may be the better fit.

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    @tofro "inability for or clumsiness in everyday social interaction" is somethign that is anyway from my understanding describing anything but not some one I would call a "Streber"
    – Zaibis
    Feb 24, 2016 at 9:05
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    Let me put it differently, then: Both a "nerd" and a "Streber" obsessivly concentrate their lives so much on their area of expertise that there isn't much room for anything else. This aspect is (I think) what made it into the translation at leo.org - And yes, German language is very good at lending terms from somewhere else and mess up their meaning entirely ;) I.e. there's worse examples than this one.
    – tofro
    Feb 24, 2016 at 10:04
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    Leo has to be taken with a grain of salt.
    – Carsten S
    Feb 24, 2016 at 11:26
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    @Zablis: all translations are context dependent, and even more so if it is a word/concept that heavily relates to differing cultural norms. Hence, the translation on Leo will cover one particular aspect, but will likely omit other possible translations. This is perfectly normal for any dictionary, and while Leo is usually quite up to date, there are frequently additional translations missing, or they are focussing on one particular aspect. The translations can give you an idea, but with out the cultural context they will always be incomplete.
    – Gerhard
    Feb 24, 2016 at 17:26
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    @Gerhard: I'm aware of this, but my question is actually focusing especially the point that those diferent aspects are kind of contradicting with each other.
    – Zaibis
    Feb 24, 2016 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


I would not translate Streber as Nerd or Geek. Those are three different things and especially, Nerd and Geek exclude each other.

A Streber studies a lot, loves school and has always best grades. I am not fluent in English but counterchecking the tranlsations of Streber in linguee.com, I would chose eager beaver. And is therefore not one of the cool kids. Because learning is so important, Streber often neglect friendship or they have troubles to find friends, because they are bullied in class or people just want to be friends with them to get good grades, too. An example is Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books. In my understanding, a Streber can be additionally a Geek or a Nerd, but just being a Streber is not enough to be also a Geek or Nerd. Being a Streber is not nerdy or geeky.

A Geek is really into one topic, up to obsession. Geeks are social and usually don't brag with their knowledge but try to entertain. An example is Ron Weasley, the Quiddish-geek, who is obsessed with Quiddish and gives Harry Potter a long talk about Quiddish. I am a geek, too, because I could only think of Harry Potter examples. ;)

A Nerd is very intelligent, also often obsessed with one topic and socially akward. They tend to brag with their knowledge, but do not notice if they bore the other person. So instead of interacting with people Nerds prefer working with machines or do other non-social activities. They could be games like Chess or Go, but often they are computers/hard-and software/internet/coding. Being a Nerd often correlates with good grades, but not always. An example of an Nerd is Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory, who loves trains.

If I were a Nerd with fantastic grades without any study effort, I wouldn't call myself a Streber. On the other hand, probably my classmates would still call me a Streber, because they don't know how much I study at home. I also know that some Streber at my school, pretended to be Nerds (very intelligent without being hardworking). It is also difficult to judge the social potential of Streber if they are bullied, so they appear socially akward as Nerds. I think, this is the reason why Nerd and Streber are sometimes mixed up, even though they are actually two different things.

A Computerfreak is someone who is into computers/hard-and software/internet/coding. Although I would use the term anymore, because it has a negative connotation. A Freak is a very harsh name for monstrous people. Computernerd or Nerd, however, got a positive connotation since the sucess of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Now, being a Nerd is more related to a high income and intelligence, and the social akwardness is less emphasized.

More information in German about the difference between Nerd and Geek can be found here "Den Unterschied zwischen Nerds und Geeks erkennen".

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    But just because beeing a nerd not neccesarily excludes beeing a streber, doesn't make the translation feasible, I would even say the opposite. Especially the only real common thing (one implicitly has good results in activitys, and the other is likely to have aswell), comes again with a big difference. While the "Streber"s succes is by definition result of ambition/effort (Duden describes Streber as "jemand, der sich ehrgeizig und in egoistischer Weise um sein Fortkommen in Schule oder Beruf bemüht") The "Nerd"s succes is mostly caused by aptitude what again makes a difference to a Streber
    – Zaibis
    Feb 24, 2016 at 10:20
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    @Zaibis: Don't (EVER) try to argue with a language ;) It is going to win.... (I see that is what you are trying to do...)
    – tofro
    Feb 24, 2016 at 11:14
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    @Zaibis, yes, a Nerd is not automatically a Streber and a Streber not a Nerd. There are distinct difference between both. However, the outcome of being a Nerd or Streber (e.g. good grades) looks the same from the outside. I think, that is the reason why both often get mixed up. (I updated my answer and added more information)
    – Iris
    Feb 24, 2016 at 11:15
  • @tofro Well I'm aware that it won't change anything, even if my complaints are correct and also won't change any weight of how far this will remain a correct translation. But actually I'm aiming for figuring out a) I'm just overseeing something what would make this flaw make fit into the consistent flow languages usualy have (In case this is an exceptional translation problem case) or b) It is simply as contradicting as I have noticed and have to live with it.
    – Zaibis
    Feb 24, 2016 at 11:23
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    I very much liked your definition of variuos characters. However, regarding Streber I find your definition a bit too positivistic. For me, Streber is not a that much a certain type of person; it is rather a classification given to a student (who is interested in the subjects school offers and spends time on it and then has good marks) by other students (who aren't). So, in short: people are not Streber, they are called Streber. You can see this as a social tactic of those with lesser interest in the subject and worse marks to defend their attitude. Jan 22, 2018 at 10:36

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