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A maven (also mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others.
The word is a borrowing from the Yiddish meyvn 'an expert, connoisseur', derived from the Hebrew מבֿין mēvīn 'person with understanding, teacher', a participle of the verb הֵבִין hēvīn 'to understand', from the West Semitic root byn 'to be separate, distinguish'.
It was first recorded (spelled mayvin) in English in 1950 (in the Jewish Standard of Toronto, Canada) and popularized in the United States in the 1960s by a series of commercials created by Martin Solow for Vita Herring, featuring "The Beloved Herring Maven." The “Beloved Herring Maven“ ran in radio ads from 1964 to 1968), and was brought back in 1983 with Allan Swift, the original voice of the Maven.
Many sites credit Vita with popularizing the word. An example of a print advertisement including the Maven is: "Get Vita at your favorite supermarket, grocery or delicatessen. Tell them the beloved Maven sent you. It won’t save you any money: but you’ll get the best herring".
Since the 1980s, it has become more common since William Safire adopted it to describe himself as "the language maven" (among other nicknames). The word is mainly confined to American English, but did not appear with the publication of the 1976 edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary; it is, however, included in the Oxford English Dictionary second edition (1989) and the American Heritage Dictionary fourth edition (2000). Numerous individuals and entities now affix maven or mavin to assert their expertise in a particular area. Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, authors of the Dictionary of Jewish Words (Jewish Publication Society 2006) call themselves The Word Mavens.
Malcolm Gladwell used the term in his book The Tipping Point (Little Brown, 2000) to describe those who are intense gatherers of information and impressions, and so are often the first to pick up on new or nascent trends. The popularity of the work of Safire and Gladwell has made the word widely used in their particular contexts. Gladwell also suggests that mavens may act most effectively when in collaboration with social influencers - i.e., people who have a wide network of casual acquaintances who trust them, often a network that crosses many social boundaries and groups.
In the afterword of The Tipping Point, Gladwell described a "maven trap" as a method of obtaining information from mavens. In the book he gave the example of the toll-free telephone number on the back of a bar of Ivory soap, which one could call with questions or comments about the product. Gladwell's opinion is that only those who are passionate or knowledgeable about soap would bother to call and that this is a method by which the company could inexpensively glean valuable information about their market.
In network theory and sociology, a maven is someone who has a disproportionate influence on other members of the network. The role of mavens in propagating knowledge and preferences has been established in various domains, from politics to social trends.