Posts Tagged ‘maven’

The Maven Knows: HaMevin Mevin

Maven. We’ve all heard the word in various contexts: “He’s such a car maven,” or “She really knows her stuff about food, what a cooking maven!” The dictionary definition of “maven” according to Cambridge is “a person with good knowledge or understanding of a subject.” What does that have to do with Hebrew learning? Exactly that – the word maven is actually Hebrew! No, not from or based on Hebrew, but an actual Hebrew word that has somehow managed to sneak into the English language undetected.The word מבין, maven in Hebrew, can refer to a noun or a verb. A maven as a noun is someone who understands. As a verb it means “he understands.” It probably came into use in English via Yiddish, where it means the same thing. It became popular in the 1960s when Vita Herring used it in a commercial featuring “the beloved herring maven.” But it really came into use via William Safire, the New York Times “On Language” columnist who used his column for quite a few Yiddishisms, and called himself “the language maven.” In any case, the word, as a noun, has made it into several important, English dictionaries as a proper English word despite its Hebrew and Yiddish origins.When you take a Hebrew learning course, you’ll find quite a few surprises in words that you thought were English. How did these words all travel overseas and make their mark on the English language? The Hebrew phrase would be “והמבין יבין”, ve’hamaven yavin – one who understands will understand.

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