May 7, 2014

Case File #014.05.07: MAVEN

If you've ever been referred to as a maven, it's probably because somebody recognizes you as an expert in some special field or discipline, or maybe it's because you're known to be a connoisseur of wine, fine dining, and the like. Or perhaps you are, like me, an avid fan of the cinema and are thus a movie maven. Whichever the case, you were labeled with maven because it means “one who has special knowledge of or extensive experience with something,” and English speakers have been applying the handle to experts and connoisseurs since the mid-twentieth century. The word is actually an Anglicized form of the Yiddish meyvn, which means “expert or authority”—whether literally or sardonically is a matter of context—and is itself a derivative of the Hebrew mebhin, meaning “one who understands.” So the next time somebody calls you a maven, it'll be okay if you kvell a little. But try not to overdo it, 'cause God forbid you should make yourself look like a schmuck.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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