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 is competent with many skills but is not outstanding in any one.

A "Jack of all trades" may also be a master of integration, as the individual knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring their disciplines together in a practical manner, and is not a specialist. Such a person is known as a polymath or a Renaissance man, and a typical example is someone like Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1612, the phrase appeared in 'Essays and Characters of a Prison' by Geffray Mynshul and the phrase has been in use in the United States since 1721. ["Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996)]

The 'jack of all trades' part of the phrase was in common use during the 1600s and was generally used as a term of praise, rather than disparagement, as it is often used today. 'Jack,' in those days was a generic term for 'man.' Later the 'master of none' was added and the expression ceased to be very flattering. Today it is used to describe a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. ["Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988)]

Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame has suggested at a speech given at the hacker conference H.O.P.E. that the complete phrase is in fact "Jack of all trades, master of none, though often better than a master of one, " [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3Viv88ZOFA] though there is no source to corroborate that the phrase was ever in common use in this form.

In other languages

In Elizabethan England, the synonymous quasi-New Latin term "Johannes factotum" ("Johnny do-it-all") was sometimes used, with the same negative connotation [http://www.sourcetext.com/sourcebook/essays/greene/OED.htm] that "Jack of all trades" sometimes has today. The term was famously used by Robert Greene in the earliest surviving published reference to William Shakespeare.

In Spanish, the expression is aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada ("apprentice of everything, master of nothing") [http://www.elearnspanishlanguage.com/vocabulary/expressions/ex-proverbs.html] .In Brazilian Portuguese, the expression "pau para toda obra" (literally, "wood for every construction") is also commonly used, but with positive connotation, describing someone who is able and willing to serve many tasks (with enough competence).

The exact counterpart in the Lithuanian language is 'devyni amatai – dešimtas badas' ("when you have nine trades, then your tenth one is famine/starvation").

References


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • jack-of-all-trades, master of none — see ↑jack of all trades • • • Main Entry: ↑master …   Useful english dictionary

  • jack of all trades, master of none — noun A person who has a competent grasp of many skills but who is not outstanding in any one. Syn: factotum, handyman, sciolist …   Wiktionary

  • jack-of-all-trades — ˌ ̷ ̷ ̷ ̷ˈ ̷ ̷ˌ ̷ ̷ noun (plural jacks of all trades) Usage: sometimes capitalized J : a person who can do passable work at various trades : a handy or versatile individual was expected to be a jack of all trades Patricia M. Johnson every man… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Jack of all trades — The phrase Jack of all trades, master of none is a well known aphorism describing a person with multiple skills, but no expert proficiency.Jack of all trades can refer to:* Jack of All Trades (film) , a 1936 British film. * Jack of All Trades (TV …   Wikipedia

  • jack of all trades and master of none — Jack is used here in the sense of unskilled worker, as contrasted with a master of a trade who had completed an apprenticeship. 1732 T. FULLER Gnomologia no. 3051 Jack of all Trades is of no Trade. 1804 M. EDGEWORTH ‘The Will’ in Popular Tales ii …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • jack of all trades — {n.}, {informal} (Often followed by the words master of none. ) A person who is knowledgeable in many areas. Can be used as praise, or as a derogatory remark depending on the context and the intonation. * /Peter is a jack of all trades; he can… …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • jack of all trades — {n.}, {informal} (Often followed by the words master of none. ) A person who is knowledgeable in many areas. Can be used as praise, or as a derogatory remark depending on the context and the intonation. * /Peter is a jack of all trades; he can… …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • jack of all trades (and master of none) — a person who can do many different types of work (but has special skill in none). → jack …   English new terms dictionary

  • jack of all trades and master of none — ► jack of all trades (and master of none) a person who can do many different types of work (but has special skill in none). Main Entry: ↑jack …   English terms dictionary

  • jack of all trades — ► jack of all trades (and master of none) a person who can do many different types of work (but has special skill in none). Main Entry: ↑jack …   English terms dictionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.