Words-worth: Maverick

A 'maverick' is an independent-minded outsider, a non-conformist, a rugged individualist.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Think Michael O'Leary, John Madejski, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Tom Cruise in Top Gun. The word is redolent of the American frontier, not least because it was the title of a 1950s TV series, with James Garner as Bret Maverick, a gambler and adventurer roaming the Old West. But its use to describe a person of unorthodox views is older, first recorded in 1880 in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News, which referred to 'political mavericks'. It was a metaphor: a maverick was an unbranded calf, wandering loose on the range. Here's one explanation: Samuel A Maverick was a wealthy Texas politician and landowner who once acquired 400 cattle in settlement of a debt. He left the herd in another family's care, but it was neglected, and soon unbranded calves escaped. Men were sent out to look for these cattle, described first as 'Maverick's', and later as 'mavericks', to stop other people claiming them. It is entirely coincidental that some 'mavericks' speak a lot of bull.

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