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. 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 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. 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; which 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 North America, the phrase has been in use since 1721, typically in its short form.
"Still better than a master of one" is the end of the full phrase, though it is usually shortened with the intent to disrespect people.
In other languages
Sayings and terms resembling "jack of all trades" appear in almost all languages. Whether they are meant positively or negatively is dependent on the context. While many of these refer to a "jack of all trades," the fundamental idea they are trying to convey may be entirely different.[clarification needed]
- Afrikaans: Hansie-my-kneg ("Man of all work;" literally "Johnny-my-servant")
- Najdi Arabic: صاحب الصنعتين كذاب ("The one who knows two trades is a liar.")
- Egyptian Arabic: سبع صنايع والبخت ضايع ("The one who knows seven trades but is so unlucky.")
- Moroccan Arabic: سبع صنايع والرزق ضايع ("The one who knows seven trades but has no wealth.")
- Syrian Arabic: كتير الكارات، قليل البارات ("Who does several trades, is incapable of managing any.")
- Lebanese Arabic: مسبِّع الكارات قليل البارات ("seven occupations, with no luck/money")
- Bengali: সকল কাজের কাজী
- Bulgarian: Майстор по всичко("Master of everything"), Професор по всичко ("Professor of everything"), Специалист по всичко("Specialist in everything")
- 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): 万事通 ("He who knows Ten Thousand Things")
- Shanghainese (Simplified): 三脚猫 ("A cat with only 3 legs")
- Cantonese (Simplified): 周身刀，无张利 (Traditional): 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.")
- Danish: Altmuligmand ("All tasks man" - now used for handyman) Tusindekunstner ("thousand tasks artist")
- Dutch: Manusje-van-alles ("Manusje-of-all"), Manus referring to the Latin word meaning "hand," usually meant positively. Also: Handige Harry ("Handy Harry"), 12 ambachten, 13 ongelukken of 12 stielen, 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 purpose.
- 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, bon à rien ("Touch everything, good in nothing", negative connotation), Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint ("he who embraces too much, has a weak grasp", negative connotation), Avoir plusieurs cordes à son arc (To have many strings to one's bow, positive), Avoir plusieurs casquettes ("To have many caps", positive), Homme-orchestre ("Orchestra man", neutral). Occasionally the expression Maître Jacques (fr) (literally "Master Jack") is used.
- German: Hansdampf in allen Gassen (literally: "Jack Steam in every alley," with "Hans Dampf" being a personal name from a novel), Tausendsassa ("thousand activities"). In a negative sense it can be said about a person: Er kann alles, aber nichts davon richtig. ("He can do everything, but nothing properly.")
- 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.
- Hawaiian: Mea mākaukau i nā hana like ʻole ("One versed in many different kinds of work"). Laukua ("One skilled in many trades").
- 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").
- Hindi: हरफन मौला, हरफन अधूरा.
- Hungarian: Complimentary : Reneszánsz ember (lit. "Renaissance man") Derogatory : Mekk Elek ( a reference to a 1974 Hungarian television series with the same named protagonist)
- 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")
- Latin: ex omnibus aliquid, in toto nihil ("something from all, nothing in total")
- 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"). Meaning: Whilst seeking(something) we want, we may lose what we already have.
- Marathi: एक ना धड भराभर चिंध्या ("Ek na dhad Bharabhar chindhya - Not one complete, just heap of rags")
- Norwegian: Altmuligmann ("All tasks man" - now used for handyman) Tusenkunstner ("thousand tasks artist")
- Persian: همه کاره و هیچکاره ("All trades and no authority")
- Polish: Siedem fachów, ósma bieda ("Seven trades, the eighth one — poverty"), człowiek orkiestra ("One man band").
- Portuguese: Pau pra toda obra ("Wood for every [building] work"); João-Faz-Tudo ("John-Makes-Everything"); Homem dos sete ofícios ("Man of seven trades"). The expression "quem tem jeito para tudo, não tem jeito para nada" ("Who has way for everything, has not way for nothing") conveys a similar meaning.
- Romanian: Bun la toate și la nimic ("Good at everything and at nothing")
- Russian: И швец, и жнец, и на дуде игрец ("And tailor and reaper and pipe player") — means that person tries to be or actually is specialist in many unrelated professions. 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"). В каждой бочке затычка ("A peg for every barrel") — someone who wants to add his word to every discussion (very often has negative meaning, used for someone annoying). И швец, и жнец, и на дуде игрец ("Can sew, mow and play the flute") — the most ironic description.
- Serbian: Devojka za sve / Девојка за све ("A girl for everything") if used with a negative connotation. Specijalista opšte prakse / Специјалиста опште праксе ("General practitioner") used with a negative connotation, though rarely because of the medical professional with the same title. Majstor svih zanata / Мајстор свих заната ("Master of all trades") if used with a positive connotation.
- Slovak: Dievča pre všetko. ("A girl for everything") Hodinový manžel ("An hour-rent husband") - especially used for someone adept at all kinds of common repairs.
- Slovene: Deklica za vse. ("A girl for everything")
- Chile: Maestro Chasquilla ("Fringe Master") (This term has no negative connotation.)
- Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile: Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta ("He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp")
- Spain, Colombia, Uruguay: 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". This has a clearly negative connotation.)
- Spain, Mexico: 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")
- Peru: "Mil oficios" ("One thousand jobs")
- Mexico: A todo le tiras, y a nada le pegas ("You aim for everything, but you hit nothing")
- Mexico: Chambitas ("Little jobs")
- Mexico: Mil usos ("One thousand jobs")
- Mexico: Todólogo ("Handyman")
- Colombia: "Todero" (From Todo -everything-)
- Sinhala: සියල්ල දත් කිසිත් නොදත්, pronounced as "Siyalla dath, Kisith nodath".("Knows everything yet, doesn't know anything.")
- Swedish: Mångsysslare ("Multi tasker") Tusenkonstnär ("thousand tasks artist")
- Turkish: "On parmağında on marifet (olan kişi)" ("(Someone who) has ten different skills on his/her ten fingers")
- Tagalog: Marunong sa lahat, magaling sa wala ("Knows everything, good at nothing")
- Tamil: பல தொழில் கற்றவன் ஒரு தொழிலும் செய்யான் ("He who starts many businesses has no businesses")
- Thai: รู้อย่างเป็ด ("Know like duck") -- ducks can walk, fly, and swim but they are good at nothing.
- Ukrainian :
- in positive meaning: "Майстер на всі руки" ("Master in all hands") - a person who can do all kind of tasks
- in negative meaning: "Мастак на всі руки" - a person who starts a lot of tasks, but is unable to successfully finish any of them.
- Urdu : "Har fann moula" (literally: "Every talent 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"), or Nhất nghệ tinh, nhất thân vinh ("Mastery in one job brings glory and success")
- 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."
--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.
- Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners originally published in 1618. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- [dead link]
- "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)
- "Baidu article on Tigerbalm (in Chinese)". Baike.baidu.com. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- Rob Keetlaer. "Robkeetlaer.nl". Robkeetlaer.nl. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- The dictionary definition of jack of all trades at Wiktionary