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 were looking for a brand name to go with our joint byline, we dubbed ourselves The Word Mavens. We write about Jewish topics and we love words. We like to think we are experts. So, too, are the food mavens who know knishes inside and out, and the simcha mavens who can manage a guest list and book a DJ with ease.
However, these days it seems like everyone’s a maven – and we don’t like it. We get annoyed when the maven’s expertise has nothing to do with being Jewish. Excuse us while we kvetch about it: Mississippi cookbook author Martha Hall Foose is lauded as a “cookbook maven.” If she’s really a maven, shouldn’t there be recipes for knishes and rugelach – not just deviled eggs and skillet-fried corn – in her collection?
June Ambrose is an African-American stylist who works with Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. She has been called a “black fashion maven.” If she’s a maven, she should know what to do when Mariah demands, “No more shmattas. I want to be all fapitzed for the Grammys.”
Martha Stewart seems to be the quintessential maven. She’s been labeled a “media maven,” “homemaking maven,” “food maven,” and “entertaining maven.” She’s the only maven we know who reaches for the ornaments, twinkle lights and pine boughs to decorate her holiday table.
We know that the title of maven is often self-proclaimed, but it didn’t occur to us that there is a world of people doing the same thing with other important titles. Then we did a little checking.
A friend mentioned that her son had studied with a spiritual guru. When we googled the guru to find out his name, we realized that gurus suffer the same fate as mavens. There are loads of self-proclaimed gurus that have nothing to do with the real meaning of the word – a Hindu (or other religion) spiritual teacher.
There are beauty gurus who concentrate on eye shadow rather than not bindis and tech gurus who can bring your computer back to life – but cannot reincarnate your old desktop computer into a MacBook Air. Two women in Sunny Isles, FL, call themselves the Cool Travel Guru Girls. Their Facebook page has 97 likes, but none of their trips are to an ashram in India.
Guru.com is an online job site that boasts it has a global pool of “over 400,000 gurus eager to help with your technical and business needs.” Do they guarantee that you’ll remain spiritually centered when your Excel spreadsheet refuses to load?
After the gurus come a parade of royalty led by Elvis – the King. Lesser royalty include Pat Olivieri, the King of Steaks. His family sandwich business in Philadelphia has held this throne since 1930.
Todd Spanier, the King of Mushrooms in Daly City, CA, traces his royal mushroom lineage to his grandparents, who taught him how to forage for the fungus when he was 5. The King of Falafel – who is New York’s No. 1 food cart vendor – doesn’t even publicize his real name. You have to click on his website to “Contact the King.”
Fewer people claim the title of Prince. Thank goodness the real one – England’s Charles, Prince of Wales – comes up first on Google. Imagine how he would feel if the Prince of Gardening and the Prince of Sandwiches were ranked above him. Note: The Earl of Sandwich is actual royalty; the Duke of Earl is not.
The well-known musician Prince was actually born with that name – although he gave it up for a brief time in the ‘90s in exchange for an unpronounceable symbol. He found that it was no good having a name no one could say, so he reclaimed his royal moniker.
Now that we realize that there are so many other titles up for grabs, we had to ask ourselves, “Do we want to stick with Word Mavens or try something else?” Word Princesses is awkward and evokes Disney characters that can’t spell. Word Queens makes us think we should be on a reality TV show, whipping up evening gowns out of dictionary pages. But guru does have a certain spiritual cache, so we did a comparison:
A maven is loud and boisterous and shouts hello. A guru whispers and prays that you find inner peace. A maven might be all fapitzed, while a guru wears a simple cotton sari. A maven is always up for a nosh – and will bring the babka. A guru will come empty-handed; chances are he’s on a sacred cleansing fast.
We’ll stick with maven.