Both could be rude, but with Gates—who early in his career seemed to have a typical geek’s flirtation with the fringes of the Asperger’s scale—the cutting behavior tended to be less personal, based more on intellectual incisiveness than emotional callousness.

(Quote from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson)

In this sentence what do "flirtation" , " fringes", and "scale" in this context mean?

Overall, what does "typical geek’s flirtation with the fringes of the Asperger’s scale" mean?

Here are what I found in my dictionary:

To flirt

1 : to behave in a way that shows a sexual attraction for someone but is not meant to be taken seriously

2 : to think about something or become involved in something in a way that is usually not very serious — + with

3 : to come close to reaching or experiencing something — + with


1 a border made of hanging threads used to decorate the edge of something (such as clothing, rugs, and curtains) a lampshade with a fringe

2 a narrow area along the edge of something

3 an area of activity that is related to but not part of whatever is central or most widely accepted


1 a series of musical notes that go up or down in pitch

2 a line on a map or chart that shows a specific unit of measure (such as an inch) used to represent a larger unit (such as a mile) : the relationship between the distances on a map and the actual distances

3 a range of numbers that is used to show the size, strength, or quality of something — usually singular

4 a range of levels of something from lowest to highest

And as for scale I think the sense 4 suits the context... Am I correct?

  • Can you add the dictionary definitions you looked up for those three words, and what you understand from them? – Nathan Tuggy May 18 '16 at 1:42
  • @Nathan - Good advice in general, but I'm not sure that looking up flirtation will help much in this case. – J.R. May 18 '16 at 1:50
  • @J.R.: Sure. The other two should be helpful, though. – Nathan Tuggy May 18 '16 at 1:58
  • 2, 3, 4. This really should be three separate questions. – user3169 May 18 '16 at 2:44
  • 1
    Definitions 3, 2, 4. – nnnnnn May 18 '16 at 3:56

seemed to have a typical geek’s flirtation with the fringes of the Asperger’s scale

I think key to understanding the quote is to first understand the phrase "typical geek," which sets the context for the rest of the passage:

In this context, a "geek" is roughly synonymous with "nerd," and presumably refers to someone with awkward social skills.

Asperger's is a clinical condition, a mild form of Autism, that would also affects the way a child is perceived by his peers.

And, as your dictionary says, to be "on the fringe" of something means to be "on the edge" of it.

So, taken together, the sentence means that he was socially awkward, to the point of being on the fringe of having Asperger's. It seems the author is being careful not to say that Bill Gates was afflicted by Asperger's; rather, that he behaved in a similarly awkward way, much like "typical computer nerds" often do.

As one commenter pointed out earlier, flirtation in this context corresponds to your dictionary's Definition 3: to come close to reaching something. To flirt with something is to come close to it; a similar and more common use of the word in this context occurs in the phrase flirt with danger.

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