Today's Word Origin: Maverick

Jason English

The latest McCain/Palin ad ends with the words "The Original Mavericks" on screen. The case for maverick is hammered home by a series of excerpted newspaper headlines ("Maverick McCain Rips GOP," 4/2/04). But 19th-century Texas politician and cattle rancher Samuel Augustus Maverick might take issue with the word "original." Former speechwriter and New York Times columnist William Safire explains in yesterday's Times:

"Old Sam Maverick's friends said he refused to brand his cattle because it was cruel to animals; competing ranchers said it let him round up and claim all the unbranded cattle in the neighborhood. In an era that has sophisticates displaying designers' initials, the Americanism maverick now means 'one who bears no man's brand,' or in McCain's evocation of Thoreau's metaphor, 'marches to the beat of his own drum.'"

The word maverick is also a synonym for an unbranded cow. Since it's unlikely there will be a Word Origin tomorrow, get your etymology fix with one of these stories: 10 Band Name Origins, Debunking Etymological Myths, and 9 Nicknames for Natives.

(If you've always wondered about another word's origin, leave a comment and we'll put our finest person on the case.)