FW Exclusive: Did Poor Word Choice Kill John McCain’s Chances?


“Maverick” – it’s a word that you’ve probably had to retire from personal use over the past few months.

But did you realize that JOHN MCCAIN’s moniker comes from the surname of a Boston family known for their progressive stance on the rights of indentured servants back in the 1600s?

What, you thought TOM CRUISE coined the word as his nickname in TOP GUN? Or are you like us and its mention always reminds you of that bad JODIE FOSTER Western?

In a tight race where many have already called a winner, could it be that identifying yourself with the wrong word ultimately led to your downfall?

JESSE SHEIDLOWER, Editor-at-Large of the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY weighs in after the jump.

Well, leaving aside the issue of McCain’s actual status and alliances, I do think that “maverick” is a good word. Most words that refer to someone who operates independently have negative connotations — nonconformist, dissenter, deviant, loner, rebel, etc.

Some are sort of neutral, or contextually difficult, like “lone wolf” (too aggressive) or “individualist (sometimes positive, but probably not in political contexts).

So I think that “maverick” is about the best he could hope for, especially given his position. That is, he had to try to remain affiliated with the broad policies of the Republican Party, while simultaneously rejecting many things they have done in recent years (often with his participation). He can neither embrace the Party wholeheartedly, nor reject it thoroughly.

The word “maverick” allows him to try to get the best of both worlds.

Jesse Sheidlower