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A maven (also mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.
The word itself is a borrowing from the Yiddish meyvn 'an expert, connoisseur', derived from the Hebrew מבין 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, Ontario, 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".
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. Since the 1980s, it became somewhat more common after William Safire adopted it as a self-promotional tool in the USA, describing himself as "the language maven" (among other nicknames). It was 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 market their expertise in a particular area. For instance, Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, authors of the Dictionary of Jewish Words (Jewish Publication Society 2006) call themselves "The Word Mavens".
Although not always using the name "maven", scholars have identified obvious mavens operating in various domains of historical human activity, for example the role of 'Hoppy' Hopkins in sparking the London counterculture of the mid 1960s. More recently the maven has become a topic for academic discussion. For instance, in 1987 Linda Price and Lawrence Feick introduced 'the market maven' concept to the consumer market literature, in his influential essay "The Market Maven: A Diffuser of Marketplace Information". Feick differentiated mavens from opinion leaders, general opinion pundits, and early purchasers of novel items. The maven matches his timely information, assiduously gathered according to likely audience needs, with a deep strategic awareness of broader trends.
Malcolm Gladwell popularised the term more widely in his book The Tipping Point (Little Brown, 2000). Gladwell described those who are intense gatherers of information and also impressions, and so are often the first to become aware of new or nascent trends. The word has since become widely used in marketing contexts and journalistic accounts. Gladwell also suggests that mavens may act most effectively when in loose 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.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2001, s.v.
- The American Heritage Dictionary, Semitic Roots Appendix
- "VITA LOOKS TO HERRING MAVEN". nytimes.com. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- "Pickled Herring". vitafoodproducts.com. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- "Beloved Herring Maven is Returning to Solow"
- advt. in Hadassah News Letter, April 30, 1965
- Jonathan Green, Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground, 1961-1971, Minerva, page 99.
- Feick and Price, "The Market Maven: A Diffuser of Marketplace Information", Journal of Marketing, Jan 1987.