• maven •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An expert or connoisseur; someone with profound knowledge of a subject.
Notes: Maven is a lexical orphan without an adjective or verb to accompany it. It does come with two plurals, the more prudent mavens, and the Hebrew plural, mavinim, mostly used facetiously in English today. The spelling mavin has alternated with the current spelling over the past century but most dictionaries have now settled on maven.
In Play: Today's Good Word adds a touch of ethnic color to your conversation when you might otherwise say expert: "After repairing the cars of her friends and relatives for ten years, Sue Barew gained the reputation of the automotive maven in the neighborhood." It does tend to be used more by intellectuals, especially by those in the publishing world, where it is often applied humorously: "Jack Potts became the financial maven down at the local newspaper when his mother won the lottery."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the Yiddish word meyvn, based on the Hebrew mayveen "expert, one who understands", the active participle of l'haveen "to understand". This word came from the radical (root) byn "to discern, understand", which also produced beena "wisdom". Mavin is a recent addition to English, appearing in print for the first time only around 1950. Its popularity was boosted in the 60s by its use in an advertising campaign by a pickled herring company that used it in corny lines like: "Get Vita at your favorite supermarket, grocery or delicatessen. Tell them the beloved Maven sent you. It won't save you any money, but you'll get the best herring." (Many thanks to word maven Dominic Sowinski for suggesting today's Good Word. It was also suggested nine years ago by an old e-friend, Perry Dror, now a Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora.)
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