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Jack of all trades

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Jack of Spades with a jackknife

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a figure of speech used in reference to a person who has dabbled in many skills, rather than gaining expertise by focusing on only one.

The original version, "a jack of all trades", is often used as a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things and has a good level of broad knowledge. They may be a master of integration: an individual who knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring the disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist.


Robert Greene used the phrase "absolute Johannes Factotumen" rather than "Jack of all trades" in his 1592 booklet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit,[1] to dismissively refer to actor-turned-playwright William Shakespeare;[2] this is the first published mention of Shakespeare.[3]

Some scholars believe Greene was referring not to Shakespeare, but to "Resolute" Johannes Florio, known as John Florio. They have pointed out how "Johannes" was the Latin version of John (Giovanni), and the name by which Florio was known among his contemporaries.[4] The term "absolute" is thought to be a rhyme for the nickname used by Gregorio in his signature ("resolute"), and the term "factotum" is thought to be used as a disparaging word for secretary, John Florio's job.[5][6][additional citation(s) needed]

In 1612, the phrase appeared in the book "Essays and Characters of a Prison" by English writer Geffray Mynshul (Minshull),[7] originally published in 1618,[8] and was probably based on the author's experience while held at Gray's Inn, London, when imprisoned for debt.[citation needed]

"Master of none"[edit]

The "master of none" element appears to have been added in the late 18th century;[2] it made the statement less flattering to the person receiving it. Today, "Jack of all trades, master of none" generally describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. When abbreviated as simply "jack of all trades", it is an ambiguous statement – the user's intention is then dependent on context. However, when "master of none" is added (sometimes in jest), this is unflattering.[9] In the United States and Canada, the phrase has been in use since 1721.[10][full citation needed][11]

Other quotation variants[edit]

In modern times, the phrase with the "master of none" element is sometimes expanded into a less unflattering couplet by adding a second line: "but oftentimes better than master of one" (or variants thereof), with some modern writers incorrectly saying that such a couplet is the "original" version with the second line having been dropped[12][13][14][15] but online discussions attempting to find instances of this second line dated to before the twenty-first century have resulted in no response.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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."
    --Groats-Worth of Wit; cited from William Shakespeare--The Complete Works, Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, editors, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2002, p. xlvii.
  2. ^ a b c Martin, Gary. "'Jack of all trades' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". www.phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  3. ^ Van Es, Bart (2010). ""Johannes fac Totum"?: Shakespeare's First Contact with the Acting Companies". Shakespeare Quarterly. 61 (4): 551–577. doi:10.1093/sq/61.4.551. JSTOR 40985630.
  4. ^ Iannaccone, Marianna (26 January 2021). "John or Giovanni Florio? Johannes Florius!". www.resolutejohnflorio.com. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  5. ^ Gerevini, Saul. "Shakespeare and Florio" (in Italian). Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  6. ^ Gerevini, Saul (2008). William Shakespeare ovvero John Florio (in Italian). Pilgrim.
  7. ^ "Geffray Minshull (Mynshul), English miscellaneous writer (1594? - 1668)". Giga-usa.com. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  8. ^ Minshull, Geffray (1821). Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners originally published in 1618. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  9. ^ Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, compiled by William and Mary Morris. HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988.
  10. ^ The OED notes appearance in The Boston News-Letter in August 1721 as "Jack of all Trades; and it would seem, Good at none."
  11. ^ "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996)
  12. ^ David Epistein (2020). "How Falling Behind Can Get You Ahead". Jack of all trades, master of none," the saying goes. But it is culturally telling that we have chopped off the ending: "…but oftentimes better than master of one.
  13. ^ Haley Marie Craig, University of North Alabama (3 July 2020). "7 Phrases You've Been Misquoting". This saying got cut short as well and originally said: "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."
  14. ^ Tabitha Wasserman (4 February 2019). "The complete saying was originally..." The complete saying was originally "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."
  15. ^ Charlene Dargay (27 January 2017). "What is the origin of the phrase". The complete saying was originally "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."

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