Jack of all trades, master of none

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"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 one.

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

Origins[edit]

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 and it refers to the linguist John Florio.[1]. The term was famously used by Robert Greene in his 1592 booklet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit,[2] in which he dismissively refers to actor-turned-playwright 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),[3] originally published in 1618,[4] and probably based on the author's experience while held at Gray's Inn, London, when imprisoned for debt.

"Master of none"[edit]

The "master of none" element appears to have been added later;[5] it made the statement less flattering to the person receiving. 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. 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 this is unflattering and sometimes added in jest.[6] In the United States and Canada, the phrase has been in use since 1721.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Idioms, The. "Theidioms.com". Largest Idioms Dictionary. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ "Geffray Minshull (Mynshul), English miscellaneous writer (1594? - 1668)". Giga-usa.com. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
  4. ^ Minshull, Geffray (1821). Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners originally published in 1618. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
  5. ^ "'Jack of all trades' - the meaning and origin of this phrase".
  6. ^ Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, compiled by William and Mary Morris. HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988.
  7. ^ "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996)

External links[edit]