September 27, 2008

Dictionary Fun with John & Sarah

 McCain and Palin have been tossing around the word "maverick" with some authority. "We're mavericks" they crow. "We aren't run by the party, because we have that maverick spirit!"

So just what is a maverick, anyway? I figure that like every other word or phrase they parrot, they have no clue what it really means. So I decided to look it up on Merriam-Webster:
Etymology: Samuel A. Maverick, American pioneer who did not brand his calves

1 : an unbranded range animal; especially : a motherless calf
I know, I know. This doesn't make any sense. Why would McCain and the GOP keep tossing this word around like it means something wonderful?

Well, it has to do with HOW those unbranded range animals losing calves became called "mavericks." The etymology leads us to the next step: they belonged to a man named Maverick.

Samuel Augustus Maverick was a Texas land baron back before (and during) the Civil War. Cattle was big business back then, and you had to track your stock; these days we use implanted micro-chips, but back then, you'd use a red-hot iron poker to burn a distinctive mark into the hides of your cattle. This was called a "brand." (and yes, it's the same as a "brand-name," but that's another discussion.)

Sam Maverick refused to brand his cattle. There are basically two prevailing theories on why he didn't do it:

  1. It allowed him to claim ANY un-branded cattle as his own, giving him claim to any cattle his neighbors hadn't gotten around to marking yet.
  2. He was too lazy to bother.
Of course, Maverick never discussed his reasons.

But I've been holding back, there is a SECOND definition:

2: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party
The term went from being a term for un-marked cows to a term referring to someone who refused to follow the custom of marking them, and thence to someone who doesn't follow customs but makes his own way.

But back then, it was a perjorative. It was a step more polite than calling someone a jackass.

By claiming to be "a maverick," it's pretty clear that McCain and Palin are not identifying with unmarked cattle or lost calves. (Although come to think of it, in her recent interviews with the press actually do evoke the image of a lost calf, or a misguided cow, anyway). They are marking themselves as rugged individualists who ignore rules and customs.

Which begs the question; are they mavericks because they are dishonest, or because they are lazy?

Or maybe I'm completely off base, and they really mean the car. Maybe they are trying to insinuate that they are like an economy car that's been dolled up in a reasonably shallow attempt to be accepted as a sports car instead of a mediocre sub-compact chassis that's an exploding gas tank away from being a Pinto.

What do you think? Lost calf? Unmarked cow? Lazy cowboy? Unrepentant thief? 1970s muscle-car wannabe?

Me, I have a better term for John McCain:

loose cannon
: a dangerously uncontrollable person or thing

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