Jack of all trades, master of none
"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a figure of speech used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills, but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one.
The earliest recorded versions of the phrase do not contain the second part. Indeed they are broadly positive in tone. Such a Jack of all trades may be a master of integration, as such an individual knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring his or her disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than an expert (Specialist).
In Elizabethan English the quasi-New Latin term Johannes factotum ("Johnny do-it-all") was sometimes used, with the same negative connotation that "Jack of all trades" sometimes has today. The term was famously used by Robert Greene in his 1592 booklet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, in which he dismissively refers to William Shakespeare with this term, the first published mention of the writer.
In 1612, the English-language version of the phrase appeared in the book "Essays and Characters of a Prison" by English writer Geffray Mynshul (Minshull) originally published in 1618, and probably based on the author's experience while held at Gray's Inn, London, when imprisoned for debt.
Mynshul uses only the first half of the phrase in the book, which may indicate that the phrase was in common usage at the time he wrote his account. Indeed, the 'jack of all trades' part of the phrase was in common use during the 17th century and was generally used as a term of praise. 'Jack' in those days was a generic term for 'man'.
"Master of none"
The 'master of none' element appears to have been added later and the expression ceased to be very flattering. Today, the phrase used in its entirety generally describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them, whilst when abbreviated as simply 'jack of all trades' is more ambiguous and the user's intention may vary, dependent on context. In North America, the phrase has been in use since 1721, typically in its short form.
The phrase is occasionally extended further into a rhyming couplet which restores the earlier positive meaning,
"Jack of all trades, master of none,Certainly better than a master of one"
Other versions appear as:
"Jack of all trades, master of none,
Often times better than a master of one"
"Jack of all trades, master of none,
Better than Jack of one trade, master of none"
Another way to counter-act the negative tone of the "master of none" part, is to change it to "Jack of all trades, master of some", which leans more towards the "Renaissance man" sort of person.
In other languages
Sayings and terms resembling 'jack of all trades' appear in almost all languages. Whether they are meant positively or negatively vary, and are dependent on the context. While many of these refer to a "jack of all trades" or "jill of all trades" in them, the fundamental idea they are trying to convey may be entirely different.
- Afrikaans: Hansie-my-kneg ("Man of all work")
- Arabic language:
- Bengali: সকল কাজের কাজী
- Mandarin (Simplified): 门门懂,样样瘟 (Traditional): 樣樣通,樣樣鬆 ("All trades known, all trades dull")
- Mandarin (Simplified): 万金油 － The "10,000 gold oil", also the name of Tiger Balm, can be used to refer to someone who meets this description
- Mandarin (Simplified): 萬事通 ("He, who knows Ten Thousand Things")
- Shanghainese (Simplified): 三脚猫 ("A cat with only 3 legs")
- Cantonese: 周身刀,無張利 ("Equipped with knives all over, yet none is sharp")
- Croatian: Katica za sve ("Kate for everything")
- Czech: Devatero řemesel, desátá bída. ("Nine crafts, tenth is misery")
- Dutch: Manusje-van-alles ("Man-of-all"), usually meant positively. Also: Handige Harry ("Handy Harry"), 12 ambachten, 13 ongelukken ("12 trades, 13 accidents").
- Esperanto: Kiu ĉasas du leporojn, kaptas neniun. ("Who chases two jackrabbits catches none")
- Estonian: Üheksa ametit, kümnes nälg ("Nine trades, the tenth one — hunger").
- Finnish: Jokapaikanhöylä ("Plane for all purposes"). Usually a compliment, but sometimes implies irony: a tool designed for all purposes is not really good for any specific purposes.
- French: Homme-à-tout-faire ("Do-all man" but the meaning is now used more for the job of 'handy-man' than for anything else), Touche-à-tout ("Touch everything"), Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint ("he who embraces too much, has a weak grasp"), Avoir plusieurs cordes à son arc (To have many strings to one's bow), Avoir plusieurs casquettes ("To have many caps"). Occasionally the expression Maître Jacques (literally "Master Jack") is used.
- German: Ein Multitalent kann Vieles, aber nichts richtig ("A multi-talent knows much, but nothing properly"). Also the older figure Hansdampf in allen Gassen (literally: "Jack Steam in every alley", with "Hans Dampf" being a personal name) exists.
- Greek: Πολυτεχνίτης και ερημοσπίτης ("A man of many crafts and a deserted home"). The empty house – without a spouse and children – implies poverty and lack of prosperity.
- Hebrew: תפסת מרובה לא תפסת (short) or תפסת מרובה לא תפסת - תפסת מועט תפסת (full) ("He who has seized a lot, has not seized" (short) or "He who has seized a lot, has not seized — He who has seized little, seized").
- Hungarian: Aki sokat markol, keveset fog ("He who grasps much, retains but little"). Ezermester ("master (of a) thousand (things)").
- Icelandic: Þúsundþjalasmiður ("A craftsman of a thousand rasps").
- Italian: Esperto di tutto, maestro in niente ("Expert of everything, master of none").
- Japanese: 多芸は無芸 ("Many talents is no talent")
- Korean: 열 두 가지 재주 가진 놈이 저녁거리가 없다 ("A man of twelve talents has nothing to eat for dinner")
- Lithuanian: Devyni amatai, dešimtas – badas ("When you have nine trades, then your tenth one is famine/starvation"). There is also Barbė šimtadarbė ("Barbie with hundred professions"). Visų krūmų neapšiksi ("It's impossible to shit in every bush").
- Malay: Yang dikejar tak dapat, yang dikendong berciciran ("The pursued is not acquired, the held is dropped")
- Persian: همه کاره و هیچ کاره ("All trades and no trades")
- Polish: Siedem fachów, ósma bieda ("Seven trades, the eighth one — poverty"), Złota rączka ("Handyman"), człowiek orkiestra ("One man band").
- Portuguese: Pau pra toda obra ("Wood for any building"); João-Faz-Tudo ("john-handyman"); Homem dos sete ofícios ("man of seven trades")
- Romanian: Bun la toate și la nimic ("Good at everything and at nothing")
- Russian: Специалист широкого профиля ("Specialist in wide range") — being an oxymoron widely used with irony, though some people use it in positive sense. Мастер на все руки ("Master in all hands"). Used only as a term of praise. За десять дел возьмется, ни одно не закончит ("Starts ten things, finishes none"). К каждой бочке затычка ("A peg for every barrel") — someone who wants to participate in every deal. И швец, и жнец, и на дуде игрец ("Can sew, mow and play the flute") — the most ironical description.
- Chile: Maestro Chasquilla ("Fringe Master")
- Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia: Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta ("He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp")
- Spain, Colombia: Aprendiz de mucho, maestro de nada ("Apprentice of a lot, master of nothing")
- Spain: Maestro Liendre, que de todo sabe y de nada entiende. ("Knows about everything but understands nothing")
- Spain: Aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada. ("Apprentice of everything, master of nothing")
- Spain: Un océano de conocimiento de una pulgada de profundidad ("An ocean of knowledge of an inch deep")
- Mexico: A todo le tiras, y a nada le pegas ("You aim for everything, but you hit nothing") Chambitas ("Little jobs") Mil usos ("One thousand jobs")
- Sinhala: සියල්ල දත් කිසිත් නොදත්, pronounced as "Siyalla dath, Kisith nodath".("Knows everything yet, doesn't know anything.")
- Zimbabwe:"mbeva zhinji hadzina mashe" ("too many cooks spoil the broth")
- Swedish: Mångsysslare ("Multi tasker") Tusenkonstnär ("thousand tasks artist")
- Tagalog: Marunong sa lahat, magaling sa wala ("Knows everything, masters none")
- Tamil: பல தொழில் கற்றவன் ஒரு தொழிலும் செய்யான் ("A man who knew so many businesses but thinks for ever to choose which one to master")
- Thai: รู้อย่างเป็ด ("Know like duck")
- Turkish: Her şeyin ehli, hiçbir şeyin ustası. ("competent in all, master in none.").
- Urdu : "Har fann moula" (literally speaking --- Har : Every, fann : talent, moula : lord). Also commonly used in Hindi sentences/phrases.
- Vietnamese: Một nghề cho chín, còn hơn chín nghề ("Being master in one job is better than being average in nine jobs")
- Sourcetext.com[dead link]
- "There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country." Groatsworth of Wit; cited from William Shakespeare (ed. Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller) The Complete Works (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2002) p. xlvii.
- Geffray Minshull (Mynshul), English miscellaneous writer (1594? - 1668)
- Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners originally published in 1618
- [dead link]
- "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988)
- "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996)
- Baidu article on Tigerbalm (in Chinese)
- "Employing Group Method as a Way of Teaching: A Continuation of What Obtains in Society" (pdf). Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- The dictionary definition of jack of all trades at Wiktionary