maven: Yiddish noun. An expert or connoisseur, a specialist. A person who considers him or herself to be an expert in a particular area.
When we say “maven,” we conjure up the image of a Jewish expert, like an accountant who’s really good with numbers or a shopper who’s memorized the dates of Nordstrom’s annual sale. Or, we picture someone who is knowledgeable about a Jewish subject or something tangentially Jewish.
When we were looking for a title to go under our joint byline, we dubbed ourselves The Word Mavens. We fit our definition: We’re Jewish and we wrote a Jewish dictionary.
We are not the only word mavens. William Safire was called a “word maven” in his obituary; he wrote a New York Times column called “On Language.” Random House offers The Mavens’ Word of the Day on its website (though its maven is anonymous). We’ll concede that these two are legit, but we get annoyed when the term is thrown around heedlessly and thoughtlessly. These days, it seems like everyone’s a maven. Excuse us while we kvetch about it.
The following confirms our suspicions:
Martha Hall Foose, a Mississippi cookbook author known for her Southern recipes for deviled eggs and skilled fried corn, was lauded as a “cookbook maven.” We think that if you’re going to be a cookbook maven, you there should be recipes for knishes and rugelach somewhere in the equation.
A New England mom of three calls herself and her website “the maven of savin’.” She posts deals, sales and upcoming shopping bargains. Last December she featured Kohl’s holiday kitchen towels with gingerbread, snowmen and Christmas trees. Not a dreidel dishcloth to be found from the “maven of savin’.”
There’s no denying that June Ambrose is a beautiful African-American fashion stylist. She works with celebs like Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and Missy Elliott. The website blackgaygossip.com called her a “black fashion maven.” We hope she knows what it means when Mariah demands, “No more shmattas. I want to be all fapitzed for the Grammys.”
In the headline of her obituary, Hawaiian orchid grower May Arstad Neal Moir was called a “gardening maven.” She was famous for introducing tropical plants to the Nu’uanu Valley and for breeding dozens of new orchid varieties. People may have called this Hawaiian native a ke aloha kumu (beloved teacher), but we doubt anyone ever called her a maven.
Martha Stewart seems to be the quintessential maven. She’s been called a “media maven,” “homemaking maven,” “food maven,” and “entertaining maven.” We think she could also be called the “penultimate makeover maven” for the way she reinvented her life and reenergized her empire upon her release from prison.
We concede that there are a lot of mavens out there running around being experts about all kinds of things. We can’t hold on to the exclusive use of the word. When they are calling football stars “mavens of the gridiron,” we realize that ship has sailed. We’ve got to learn to share.