Quickie: an irrepressible love for “maven”

February 1, 2008

I really really love the word maven. I don’t know why. It’s just something about the way it sounds, maybe, the drawn-out maaaaaaaaaay followed by the short ven. Maybe because there are few words that rhyme with it: haven, raven, shaven. Maybe I just like it. A maven, the dictionary tells us, is “A person who has special knowledge or experience; an expert.” It’s originally a Yiddish word, and we didn’t start using it in English until 1952. Heck, just read what Answers.com has to say about the word:

What’s the word for a know-it-all who really knows it all? We didn’t have one until Yiddish gave us maven in the mid-twentieth century. A maven is more adept than a mere expert, more authoritative than a mere authority, sharper than a pundit, more up-to-date than a past master.

Since the word was introduced to English (with attestations going back to 1952), we have been blessed with a multitude of mavens…

Regrettably, this word was not in the English language when Edgar Allan Poe wrote his most famous poem. He would have found it useful: “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou, I said, art sure no maven, Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore.”

English should be so lucky to get words from Yiddish! [source]

Ah, vocabulary…

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