Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I was going to include some of the information in this post in another article I'm working on for Lugubrious Drollery, but then I decided I should ratchet up my already intense research efforts a notch by reading a relevant book, or at least part of a book, before publishing the article. Or maybe I'll just look at the pictures, if the book has any. I've ordered it from Amazon, but in the meantime, I know readers of LD are thirsting for knowledge. So gather around the fire and quaff deeply, campers.

Without giving too much away, I will say that the article I'm working on involves an historical figure who could have been considered a maverick. Rather than waiting to share my desultory thoughts on the word maverick, I offer them up now.

First, let's review the meanings of the word desultory, which I have to look up any time I'm tempted to use it. From the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary:
Main entry: des-ul-to-ry
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin desultorius, literally, of a circus rider who leaps from horse to horse, from desilire, from de- + salire to leap--more at sally (a word I used to good effect in a previous post*, if I do say so myself--ed.)
1: marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose
2: not connected with the main subject
3. disappointing in progress, performance, or quality
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, my thought process in a nutshell.

As I have pondered the word maverick these last few days, my thoughts have skipped like a flat stone hurled sidearm across a stagnant and algae-choked pond. I have ruminated upon a real-life Texas cattleman (who should be used to rumination), an old TV western, a cheap Ford sedan, and last year's Presidential campaign.

Let us begin (I know what you're thinking--all that, and he hasn't even begun?) with the etymology of the word maverick, from the old standby, The Online Etymology Dictionary:
Maverick: 1867, "calf or yearling found without an owner's brand," in allusion to Samuel A. Maverick (1803-70), Texas cattle owner who was negligent in branding his calves. Sense of "individualist, unconventional person" is first recorded 1886, via notion of "masterless."
My earliest recollection of hearing the word maverick, like many of the things that persist in my brain while more important data are lost, comes from television. I grew up on a duck farm, and there was no need to brand our stock. Even if they got outside the pen, they wouldn't waddle far, so our conversations would never include statements like, "I've got to saddle up the palomino and round up the mavericks." For one thing, we didn't have a palomino, or any other kind of horse. There was no desultory jumping around from horse to horse, circus style, at our farm. For another thing, there was no rounding up to be done. We would just grab the escapees by their necks and lift them back over the fence.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah--TV. One of the coolest actors of our time is James Garner. Back in the fifties, he was the star of the western Maverick. His character was Bret Maverick, a carefree gambler, and of course, he was an "individualist" and "masterless." Whether he was supposed to be related to Samuel Maverick, the negligent cattleman, I don't know, and I don't feel like going to Wikipedia right now to try to find out. I have gone to the trouble to go to YouTube to embed the intro to the show here.

Fast forward now to 1970. That was the year my father purchased the second new car he had bought during my lifetime. The first was a 1964 VW Beetle, which I had commandeered. A frugal man, he went for economy again and bought a Ford Maverick. On those occasions when I drove it, I didn't feel nearly as cool as Bret Maverick, but I did prove that a tinny Ford with a four-cylinder engine and a three-on-the-tree manual shift could, however briefly, exceed one hundred miles an hour without blowing up--a fact I never shared with my father.

In case you don't remember the sleek lines of the Ford Maverick, I'm posting a picture here. I wasn't enamored enough with the Maverick to take a picture of it. I was fortunate enough to find a picture of one at Wikimedia Commons. It's even the same color as ours, although ours didn't have such fancy chrome lug nuts.

Lastly (do I hear cheers from the audience?), during last year's Presidential campaign, the word maverick was bandied about a good deal. Sen. John McCain, trying his best to distance himself from the extremely unpopular George W. Bush, painted himself as a "Washington outsider," (who happens to have been in Washington since 1982). He and his running mate Sarah Palin spent a lot of time calling each other "reformers" and "mavericks" even though McCain voted with the Republicans 93.8 percent of the time during the 111th Congress. You want a maverick? How about Sen. Olympia Snowe (R, Maine), who voted with the GOP only 34.4 percent of the time? Now, there's a woman who can say, "Thanks, but no thanks," and mean it.

So, there you have it, cowpokes and cowgirls--a brief ride through the deep recesses of my mind. Happy trails until we meet again.

*Link to previous post, "Step Into My Bidet," wherein the author cleverly uses the word sally.
Link to Online Etymology Dictionary


David H. said...

So you're going to be writing about Sarah Palin?

David C. said...

No, but I almost ordered her calendar from Amazon.


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