Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic write, speak and blog together as The Word Mavens.
Through the magic of all-knowing, all-seeing Google, you can sign up for a “Google Alert” that lets you know when certain words appear in the news. We get an email every time our “brand” – The Word Mavens – gets a mention.
But even Google isn’t perfect. It sometimes alerts us to a new word – like youthquake or muggle. Sometimes it just alerts us to other mavens – self-styled experts like the guy who calls himself the maven of cheesesteaks or the agency named “Maven Car Rental.” We imagine they’re experts in unneeded insurance coverage and fuel tanks that are returned not filled to the top.
This week’s Google Alert was not a link to a published clip like we hoped but to the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus’ list of 46 synonyms for the word “mavens.” Sadly, “Joyce and Ellen” weren’t listed as synonyms, but the email did give us some inspiration.
Their definition of mavens? “A person with a high level of knowledge or skill in a field.” In our humble opinion, we qualify. We argue over the Oxford comma. We’re always on the lookout for bad typos on billboards. And we watch the national spelling bee, pulling for the crazy Yiddish words.
Synonyms for mavens include aces, fiends, geeks, hotshots, maestros, sharks, whizzes, wizards, cognoscenti, crackerjacks and connoisseurs. We’ve got some trouble with these.
We’re not geeks; they’re high schoolers who are good on the computer. After years of sitting physically in front of the same computer to write together, we just discovered that we could collaborate remotely with Google Docs.
Fiends? We’re not a Marvel villain, a demon or maniac. But we do get obsessed when it comes to finishing up all of the leftover Halloween candy.
We’re not hotshots either. When we were invited to speak at a retirement village several states away, we took them up on their offer to stay overnight in the Golden Age wing. Would a hotshot do that?
Maestros? That’s classical music. Wizards? We think Harry Potter. We will own up to being connoisseurs. We know a good chocolate babka when we taste it. We know how to gather the correct components for the seder plate. (We even know what put in the mysterious sixth spot.)
And we know which delis hand out a free nosh while we’re waiting.
There was also a list of words to describe maven-wannabes, including groupies, admirers, dilettantes, cultists, disciples, hangers-on, backers, boosters, rooters, champions and evangelists.
Groupies? Who are we? The Beatles? We don’t think anyone has a poster of us on their bedroom wall.
But we do have admirers, backers, boosters and rooters. We know this because when we tweet or post on Facebook, some people show how much they love us with a red heart emoji. We get comments from thousands . . . no hundreds. . . a few friends. . . okay, mostly Ellen’s mother-in-law. She really loves us. She’s a booster and a backer of The Word Mavens.
We don’t have hangers-on. Our last hangers-on were when our kids were toddlers and they would grab onto our legs so we couldn’t walk away.
Disciples and cultists? We don’t have any of these. Yes, we do worship a fresh toasted sesame bagel and cream cheese but we don’t encourage anyone to shave their head and bang a tambourine.
Evangelists? We don’t preach at a megachurch but we do spread the gospel of “do whatever you can to entice the flock to come home.” Commandments include stocking the refrigerator with the favorite foods and reimbursing the plane/train/bus ticket home.
NASA has made maven an all-caps acronym. It stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), part of their Mars Scout Program to study that planet’s atmosphere.
We can make up an acronym, too. Just call us Mothers Are Verklempt Every Now and Then.
Merriam-Webster had antonyms, too, including amateurs, dilettantes and dabblers. The latter is someone who does something for a little bit and gives it up. We have dabbled in book club membership, yoga, and full-time employment.
But we have not dabbled in being Word Mavens. We’ve been doing the same-old, same-old for more than 20 years. We’ve been shlepping around the country to shmooze with sisterhoods, men’s clubs and senior groups about Jewish culture, beloved foods, holidays and the Yiddish and Hebrew words that describe them. We’ve been writing books, articles and blog posts. And we haven’t kvetched about any of it.
Mavens? We’ve earned it!