The Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir recently described Ed Miliband as "dweebish". Being slighted by Moir surely confirms you as one of life's blessed creatures, but aside from that you wouldn't want "dweebish" to stick. In fact, I'd recommend that his people get cracking on an anti-dweeb strategy sharpish. These things need to be stamped out fast.

In undertaking a sombre analysis of the word dweeb, it is vital to get a few things straight. A dweeb is not a geek, or a nerd, or a dork. There used to be sweets called Dweebs, which were chewy versions of Nerds. You see? These things matter. You can't just go mixing up dweebs with nerds and not expect repercussions.

There's an extremely helpful Venn diagram that clarifies these delicate distinctions, and shows that a dweeb is the result of two overlapping characteristics - intelligence and social ineptitude - while a dork is where social ineptitude meets obsession. Ed should be relieved he's a dweeb. At least he's clever.

All these words, no shock here, are Americanisms. For nowhere is the categorising of social misfits more assiduously pursued than in the land of the free. Dweeb belongs to a cosy family of insults - dweebie, tweebie, dweezle - which the Dictionary of Slang po-facedly aligns into categories. So a dweezle is specifically a socially inept person on campus, while a dweeb is the teen version: think high-school cafeterias, delineated between jocks, cheerleaders and hipsters, and yes, there they are, the spotty, speccy ones in the corner, sniffing: the dweebs.

The word dates, says Slang, from the 1980s, a decade of merciless bullying, if ever there was one. Nowadays, you don't hear "dweeb" so much. Apart from a brave Christian rock band called [dweeb] (I'm serious), the word has become a rare commodity. Even the sweets were discontinued in the 1990s because they were apparently difficult to distinguish from Nerds. How rude. If it does stick, dear Ed, make it your own. When all feels gloomy and glum, you can always think, I brought back dweeb from the dead. And there's not many that can say that.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Melvyn Bragg guest edit