Now that the election is over, it’s time to stand back and assess what was lost and what was gained from the experience. Ultimately, the answer has more to do with how your candidates fared than with anything esoteric or academic. But I can tell you one thing we lost this year: a good and useful word will never be the same again, thanks to John McCain.

Not only has he been calling himself a maverick for years, but since she was tapped for the GOP vice presidential spot, Sarah Palin has taken to calling herself a maverick, too. I’m sure I will be denounced as an elitist (another word badly misused by the GOP spin machine), but McCain and Palin were not mavericks. They were opportunists and they stole their sobriquet from a righteous man.

Samuel Augustus Maverick was born in what is now Oconee County, S.C., on July 23, 1803. His father, Samuel Maverick, was a Charleston attorney and businessman. Young Samuel Maverick spent his first four years in Charleston. When one of his siblings died of yellow fever, his father moved the family permanently back to the mountains around Pendleton to get away from the summer contagion of the Lowcountry

Maverick graduated from Yale University in 1825 and studied law in Virginia. He opened a law office in Pendleton, moved to Georgia, then to Alabama to oversee family lands. But he was bored with the business and unsuited to overseeing slaves.

In 1835, Maverick struck out for Texas, arriving at the beginning of the Texas revolution. He was at the Alamo with Crockett and Travis and the other Texans, and with another South Carolinian, James Butler Bonham of Pendleton. Maverick slipped of the fort on March 2, 1836, to meet the Texas provisional government and plead for reinforcements. It was for naught. On the morning of March 6, the Alamo fell to the Mexican army and all its defenders were slain, including his friend Bonham.

Later, Maverick went on to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence, serve in the Texas Congress, and work for U.S. Annexation. After annexation, he served in the state legislature. He opposed secession in 1860, but voted for it when he saw that it was unavoidable.

Shortly after his arrival in Texas, Maverick married and started a family, took a law license and began a long career of buying west Texas land. It was as a cattleman that he made his name famous, though he wasn’t much of a cattleman. He maintained a small herd on the Matagorda Peninsula, south of Houston, but — contrary to the code of the West — he refused to brand his calves.

William Safire, who created a dictionary of American political expressions, told NPR recently, “He refused to brand his cattle, and the reason he gave was he didn’t want to be cruel to animals. But all his friends and neighbors said that wasn’t so — he was just going around trying to round up all the unbranded cattle and claim them for himself.”

Whatever the reason, all unbranded cattle in Texas became known as mavericks, and from there the name entered the English lexicon as a person of stubborn independence.

When he died in 1870, Samuel Maverick owned more than 300,000 acres of west Texas soil and left his name on Maverick County, on the upper Rio Grande. In Charleston, the Maverick family is remembered by the two-block long street running between Rutledge Avenue and upper King Street.

The Maverick clan, which is alive and well in Texas, has a 300-year tradition of progressive politics, dating back to colonial Massachusetts, when an early Maverick became embroiled in a legal conflict in defense of the rights of indentured servants. One of the five men killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre of 1770 was a 17-year-old apprentice named Samuel Maverick.

Maury Maverick, grandson of the Texas pioneer, was a congressman from San Antonio in the 1930s, who won election with wide Hispanic support. He was a passionate New Deal Democrat and a true maverick, who angered the conservative Democratic establishment in Texas. They successfully branded him a communist and ended his political career. (Maury Maverick added his own word to the English language. As a Washington bureaucrat supervising war production in 1944, he wrote a memo denouncing contorted and convoluted bureaucratic language as “gobbledygook.” It stuck.)

“I’m just enraged that McCain calls himself a maverick,” Terrellita Maverick, 82, a San Antonio native and descendant of Samuel Maverick, recently told a reporter. She has every right to be enraged. After this campaign, nobody will ever be able to use the word “maverick” again without eliciting a spasm of eye rolling. That’s what John McCain has taken from us.