"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a
figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar a ...
used in reference to a person who has dabbled in many skills, rather than gaining expertise by focusing on one. The original version "a jack of all trades" is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing 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.


Robert Greene used it in his 1592 booklet ''
Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit ''Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance'' (1592) is a tract published as the work of the deceased playwright Robert Greene. It was published as a short book or pamphlet, a form that was popular and which contribut ...
,'' to dismissively refer to actor-turned-playwright
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's and the " of A ...

William Shakespeare
; this is the first published mention of Shakespeare. Some scholars believe 'absolute Johannes factotum' was referring to resolute Johannes Florio, known as
John Florio Giovanni Florio (1552–1625), known as John Florio, was a linguist, poet, writer, translator, lexicographer Lexicography is divided into two separate but equally important groups: * Practical lexicography is the art or craft A cra ...

John Florio
. They have pointed out how 'Johannes' was the Latin name of John (Giovanni) and the name by which Florio was known among his contemporaries, the term 'absolute' was an alliteration of the nickname chosen and used by Florio in his signature (precisely the word 'resolute') and the term 'factotum' was a disparaging definition of secretary, John Florio's job. 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 The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court 300px, Combined arms of the four Inns of Court. Clockwise from top left: Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, Inner Temple. The Inns of ...
London London is the Capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary down to the North Sea, and has b ...

, 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 The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Pacific and northward into the Arctic Oce ...

, the phrase has been in use since 1721.

“Full quotation”

In modern times, the phrase with the "master of none" element is sometimes expanded into a less unflattering
couplet A couplet is a pair of successive Line (poetry), lines of Metre (poetry), metre in poetry. A couplet usually consists of two successive lines that rhyme and have the same metre. A couplet may be formal (closed) or run-on (open). In a formal (or ...

by adding a second line: "though oftentimes better than master of one" (or variants thereof), with some writers saying that such a couplet is the "original" version with the second line having been dropped, although there are no known instances of this second line dated to before the twenty-first century.

See also

Amateur An amateur (; ; ) is generally considered a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income. Amateurs and their pursuits are also described as popular, informal, , , , and ist. History Histor ...
Competent man file:competent-man-heinlein.jpg, Author Robert Anson Heinlein, Robert Anson Heinlein's famous listing of a range of competencies that his protagonist considers essential to be a well-rounded person. In literature, the competent man is a stock charac ...
* Multipotentiality * Philomath *
Polymath A polymath ( el, πολυμαθής, , "having learned much"; la, homo universalis, "universal human") is an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific prob ...



External links

*{{Wiktionary-inline, jack of all trades English-language idioms Jack tales