MAVERICK is a word bandied about a lot. At first glance (or hearing), I was irresistibly reminded of the TV series, a favorite more years ago than I care to count. But, like a number of commentators to various New York Times political blogs, I thought it would be interesting to explore the word.
My Concise Oxford dictionary tells me it is an "unbranded calf or yearling; masterless person, rover; stray."
"Masterless person" doesn't seem quite the right definition for the way the word has been used in speeches, comments, and debates, of late, so I turned to my "Standard Desk" American dictionary, courtesy Funk & Wagnall. This entry proved rather more informative: "1. U.S. An unbranded or orphaned animal, as a calf, traditionally belonging to the first person to claim or brand it. 2. U.S. Informal One who is unorthodox in his ideas, attitudes, etc. [after Samuel A Maverick, 1803-70. Texas lawyer who did not brand his cattle.]"
Well, shucks, it sure is fascinating to learn that the word "maverick" derives from the name of a lawyer who refused to follow the law. But how does this relate to the use of the word today? And, in the real world of the western cowboy, what does it really mean?
I found someone who speaks from experience in a comment posted on one of the NYT blogs. Royce Williams elaborated on the term in intriguingly ominous terms, saying: "Out here in the West, a maverick is an unbranded range bull. You can't trust them; can't turn your back on them, even for a second. And they are not afraid of the horse you are riding. You bring in a bull to improve genetics in the herd, and the maverick will kill it."
An image that's a long, long way from the lovable footloose gambler played by James Garner in the first TV series. My, how a word can change.