Political Theater Is Unsafe Place for English Language

by | Oct 5, 2008

What qualities make a maverick a maverick?

Can a hockey mom from small town Alaska lay claim to the word “maverick” and be believed by large segments of the voting population? I don’t think there’s any question that she can, and that fact has a fiery old lady from Texas upset.

Samuel Augustus Maverick

According to The New York Times , Terrellita Maverick, 82, a San Antonio native who proudly carries the name of a family that has been known for its progressive politics since the 1600s, shrinks a little each time she or her children hear Sen. McCain or Gov. Palin use the term to describe themselves.

Let’s look at where the meaning of this word developed:

In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it, Ms. Maverick said; unbranded cattle, then, were called “Maverick’s.” The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand.

As Maureen Dowd points out, also in today’s New York Times, “True mavericks don’t brand themselves.”