A maven (also mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others.
The word comes from the Yiddish meyvn and Hebrew mevin (מבֿין), with the same meaning, which in turn derives from the Hebrew binah, meaning understanding. It was first recorded in English around 1952, and popularized in the 1960s by a series of commercials for Vita Herring created by Martin Solow, featuring "The Beloved Herring Maven." The “Beloved Herring Maven“ ran in radio ads from 1964-1968, and was then brought back in 1983 with Allan Swift, the original voice of the Maven.
Many sites credit Vita with popularizing the word Maven. An example of print advertisement including the Maven: "Get Vita at your favorite supermarket, grocery or delicatessen. Tell them the beloved Maven sent you. It won’t save you any money, but you’ll get the best herring".
Since the 1980s it has become more common since William Safire adapted it to describe himself as "the language maven". The word is mainly confined to American English, but had not yet appeared with the publication of the 1976 edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
In network theory and sociology, a maven is someone who has a disproportionate influence on other members of the network. The role of mavens in propagating knowledge and preferences has been established in various domains, from politics to social trends.
Malcolm Gladwell used it in his book The Tipping Point (Little Brown, 2000) to describe those who are intense gatherers of information and impressions, and so are often the first to pick up on new or nascent trends. The popularity of the work of Safire and Gladwell has made the word widely used in their particular contexts. Gladwell also suggests that mavens may act most effectively when in collaboration with connectors - i.e., those people who have wide network of casual acquaintances by whom they are trusted, often a network that crosses many social boundaries and groups. Connectors can thus easily and widely distribute the advice or insights of a maven.
In the afterword of The Tipping Point, Gladwell described a "maven trap" as a method of obtaining information from mavens. In the book he gave the example of the toll-free telephone number on the back of a bar of Ivory soap, which one could call with questions or comments about the product. Gladwell's opinion is that only those who are passionate or knowledgeable about soap would bother to call and that this is a method by which the company could inexpensively glean valuable information about their market.
In the book The Human Fabric (Aviri, 2004), Bijoy Goswami uses the term to describe one of three core energies in people, organizations and society.