September 02, 2008

maverick, shmaverick

We hear a lot about mavericks these days. It's supposedly a good thing to be a maverick or to make maverick decisions. Where does the word come from? Here's the story:

The word goes back to the name of Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-70), a U.S. politician and the owner of a large herd of cattle in which the calves were unbranded. Its earliest meaning was "an unbranded calf or yearling". The OED lists the following excerpt from the Overland Monthly from 1869:
One Maverick formerly owned such immense herds that many of his animals unavoidably escaped his rouanne in the spring, were taken up by his neighbors, branded and called ‘mavericks’. The term eventually spread over the whole State, and is in use now, not only to denote a waif thus acquired, but any young animal. No great drove can sweep through this mighty unfenced State without drawing a wake of these ‘mavericks’.
Only 10 years later, the word's meaning had been extended from unbranded calf to "
unorthodox or independent-minded person; a person who refuses to conform to the views of a particular group or party; an individualist". However, it can also mean "A thing obtained dishonestly" -- probably not the meaning the McCain campaign is going for.

No comments: