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Word for the Wise April 10, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Maven

Why would someone think maven is gender specific, applied to women, not men? (来源:老牌的英语学习网站 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

It's a fair enough question, but one we're ill-equipped to answer, since we've never thought of maven—meaning "expert; one who is experienced or knowledgeable"as female specific. But we were asked exactly that question by a (female) correspondent, and we're happy to start speculating.

It could be that maven was somehow confused with social maven, a term which might have evoked dowager, a "dignified elderly woman." Or maven might have been mentally associated with any or all of the following female-specific terms: madam, matron, or memsahib. Memsahib, by the way, names "a white foreign woman of high social status living in India;" or, more specifically, "the wife of a British official."

Or perhaps, the mix-up came from following the maven to raven to crane to crone line of association. While we don't know how someone's thought process developed, we can say with some certainty that the assumption doesn't trace to the history of maven.

Maven was borrowed into English from Yiddish during the mid-20th century. Maven has roughly the same meaning in Yiddish that it does in English; its Hebrew ancestor meant "one who understands." Why would someone think maven is gender specific, applied to women, not men?

It's a fair enough question, but one we're ill-equipped to answer, since we've never thought of maven—meaning "expert; one who is experienced or knowledgeable"as female specific. But we were asked exactly that question by a (female) correspondent, and we're happy to start speculating.

It could be that maven was somehow confused with social maven, a term which might have evoked dowager, a "dignified elderly woman." Or maven might have been mentally associated with any or all of the following female-specific terms: madam, matron, or memsahib. Memsahib, by the way, names "a white foreign woman of high social status living in India;" or, more specifically, "the wife of a British official."

Or perhaps, the mix-up came from following the maven to raven to crane to crone line of association. While we don't know how someone's thought process developed, we can say with some certainty that the assumption doesn't trace to the history of maven.

Maven was borrowed into English from Yiddish during the mid-20th century. Maven has roughly the same meaning in Yiddish that it does in English; its Hebrew ancestor meant "one who understands."

 
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