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 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.
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.. The term was famously used by Robert Greene in his 1592 booklet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, 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), originally published in 1618, and probably based on the author's experience while held at Gray's Inn, London, when imprisoned for debt.
"Master of none"
The "master of none" element appears to have been added later; 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. In the United States and Canada, the phrase has been in use since 1721.
- Idioms, The. "Theidioms.com". Largest Idioms Dictionary. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- "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.
- "Geffray Minshull (Mynshul), English miscellaneous writer (1594? - 1668)". Giga-usa.com. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- Minshull, Geffray (1821). Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners originally published in 1618. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- "'Jack of all trades' - the meaning and origin of this phrase".
- Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, compiled 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)
- The dictionary definition of jack of all trades at Wiktionary