- Jack of all trades, master of none
"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a
figure of speechused 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 polymathor 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 Savageof Mythbustersfame 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
Elizabethan England, the synonymousquasi- New Latinterm "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 languageis 'devyni amatai – dešimtas badas' ("when you have nine trades, then your tenth one is famine/starvation").
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