Looking into "maverick"

A reader sent a note last week about the word "maverick," which Republicans and the news media repeatedly used to refer to Sen. John McCain. The reader looked up the definitions and found this one: "especially a calf that has become separated from its mother." As the reader wryly noted, McCain’s mother, Roberta, was right there in the audience at last week’s Republican National Convention. (Here is an aside that really has nothing to do with politics: Wow, she’s 96 and she’s very pretty.)

Of course, the Republicans use "maverick" to mean a politician who doesn’t go along with his party all the time, who takes an independent stand. They mean that McCain is an individualist. And that image fit with the convention’s message that the Republican ticket will bring change to Washington.

I looked into the etymology of "maverick." It originally applied to unbranded animals. Webster’s New World College Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary report that the word comes from Samuel Maverick, a Texas rancher (1803-1870) who did not brand his cattle. The word has a western origin, and it evokes images of the Old West. We Americans of a certain age still have a nostalgia for the West. We like our cowboys to swagger and to be hard to tame.

Of course, the coolest "maverick" of all time was Bret.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.