Jack of all trades, master of none

Jack of all trades, master of none

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"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a figure of speech
Figure of speech
A figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning. It can also be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile,...

 used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one
Amateur
An amateur is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science, without pay and often without formal training....

.

The earliest recorded versions of the phrase do not contain the second part. Indeed they are broadly positive in tone. Such 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 their disciplines together
Interdisciplinarity
Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic fields into one single discipline. An interdisciplinary field crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged....

 in a practical manner. This person is a generalist
Generalist
Generalist may refer to:* a person with a wide array of knowledge, the opposite of which is a specialist.* a physician who is focused on primary care and is not a specialist in a certain medical field...

 rather than a specialist. A person who is exceptional in many disciplines is known as a polymath
Polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

 or a "Renaissance man"; a typical example is Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

. The phrase became increasingly negative in connotation during the 20th century.

Origins


In Elizabethan English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 the quasi-New Latin
New Latin
The term New Latin, or Neo-Latin, is used to describe the Latin language used in original works created between c. 1500 and c. 1900. Among other uses, Latin during this period was employed in scholarly and scientific publications...

 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
Robert Greene (16th century)
Robert Greene was an English author best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, widely believed to contain a polemic attack on William Shakespeare. He was born in Norwich and attended Cambridge University, receiving a B.A. in 1580, and an M.A...

 in his 1592 booklet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit
Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit
Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance is a tract published as the work of the recently deceased playwright Robert Greene...

, in which he dismissively refers to William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 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
Gray's Inn
The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, when imprisoned for debt.

Mynshul uses only the first half of the phrase in the book, which may indicate that the phrase was in common usage at the time he wrote his account. Indeed, the 'jack of all trades' part of the phrase was in common use during the 17th century and was generally used as a term of praise. 'Jack' in those days was a generic term for 'man'.

"Master of none"


The 'master of none' element appears to have been added later and the expression ceased to be very flattering. 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, whilst when abbreviated as simply 'jack of all trades' is more ambiguous and the user's intention may vary, dependent on context. In North America, the phrase has been in use since 1721, typically in its short form.

The phrase is occasionally extended further into a rhyming couplet which restores the earlier positive meaning,

"Jack of all trades, master of none,

Certainly better than a master of one"

In other languages


Sayings and terms resembling 'jack of all trades' appear in almost all languages. Whether they are meant positively or negatively varies, and is dependent on the context. While many of these refer to a "jack of all trades" in them, the fundamental idea they are trying to convey may be entirely different.
  • Iraqi Arabic
    Arabic language
    Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

    : سبع صنايع والبخت ضايع ("The one who knows seven professions but is so unlucky").

  • Chinese
    Chinese language
    The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

    • 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
      Tiger Balm
      Tiger Balm is the trade name for a heat rub manufactured and distributed by Haw Par Healthcare in Singapore.- History :It was originally developed in the 1870s by a herbalist, Aw Chu Kin, in Rangoon, Burma, who asked his sons Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par on his deathbed to perfect the...

      , can be used to refer to someone who meets this description
    • Shanghainese
      Shanghainese
      Shanghainese , or the Shanghai language , is a dialect of Wu Chinese spoken in the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region. It is classified as part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Shanghainese, like other Wu dialects, is largely not mutually intelligible with other Chinese varieties...

       (Simplified)
      : 三脚猫 ("A cat with only 3 legs")
    • Cantonese: 周身刀,無張利 ("Equipped with knives all over, yet none is sharp")

  • Croatian
    Croatian language
    Croatian is the collective name for the standard language and dialects spoken by Croats, principally in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and other neighbouring countries...

    : Katica za sve ("Kate for everything")

  • Czech
    Czech language
    Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

    : Devatero řemesel, desátá bída. ("Nine crafts, tenth comes misery").

  • Dutch
    Dutch language
    Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

    : Manusje-van-alles ("Hand-of-all"), usually meant positively. There is also Handige Harry ("Handy Harry"), 12 ambachten, 13 ongelukken' ("12 trades, 13 accidents") which have a negative connotation.

  • Esperanto: Kiu ĉasas du leporojn, kaptas neniun. ("Who chases two jackrabbits catches none")

  • Estonian
    Estonian language
    Estonian is the official language of Estonia, spoken by about 1.1 million people in Estonia and tens of thousands in various émigré communities...

    : Üheksa ametit, kümnes nälg ("Nine trades, the tenth one - hunger").

  • Finnish
    Finnish language
    Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

    : Jokapaikanhöylä (Plane
    Plane (tool)
    A hand plane is a tool for shaping wood. When powered by electricity, the tool may be called a planer. Planes are used to flatten, reduce the thickness of, and impart a smooth surface to a rough piece of lumber or timber. Planing is used to produce horizontal, vertical, or inclined flat surfaces on...

     for all purposes). Usually a compliment, but sometimes implies irony: a tool designed for all purposes is not really good for any specific purposes.

  • French
    French language
    French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

    : 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 ("Touch everything"), Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint ("he who embraces too much, has a weak grasp"), Avoir plusieurs cordes à son arc (To have many strings to one's bow), Avoir plusieurs casquettes (To have many caps). Occasionally the expression Maître Jacques (literally "Master Jack") is used.

  • German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

    : Hansdampf in allen Gassen ("Jack Steam in all alleys"), while "Hansdampf" can also refer to a scalawag, thus not necessarily positive.

  • Greek
    Greek language
    Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

    : Πολυτεχνίτης και ερημοσπίτης ("He who knows a lot of crafts lives in an empty house"). The empty house – without a spouse and children – implies poverty and lack of prosperity.

  • Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    : "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
    Tafasta meruba lo tafasta
    Tafasta meruba lo tafasta is a Talmudic idiom used to express the idea that when it is possible to take a particular law from two different sources, it should be taken from the stricter of the two, in order to stay on the safe side and avoid making assumptions about which is correct...

    ").

  • Hungarian
    Hungarian language
    Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

    : Aki sokat markol, keveset fog. ("He who grasps much, retains but little")

  • Icelandic
    Icelandic language
    Icelandic is a North Germanic language, the main language of Iceland. Its closest relative is Faroese.Icelandic is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic or Nordic branch of the Germanic languages. Historically, it was the westernmost of the Indo-European languages prior to the...

    : Þúsundþjalasmiður ("A craftsman of a thousand rasps").

  • Italian
    Italian language
    Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

    : Esperto di tutto, maestro in niente ("Expert of everything, master of none").

  • Japanese
    Japanese language
    is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

    : 器用貧乏 ("skillful but poor")

  • Korean
    Korean language
    Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

    : 열 두 가지 재주 가진 놈이 저녁거리가 없다 ("A man of twelve talents has nothing to eat for dinner")

  • Lithuanian
    Lithuanian language
    Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...

    : 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
    Malay language
    Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family. It is the official language of Malaysia , Indonesia , Brunei and Singapore...

    :Yang dikejar tak dapat, yang dikendong berciciran ("The chased is missed, the held falls apart")

  • Persian
    Persian language
    Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

    : همه‌کاره و هیچ‌کاره ("Do-it-all and do-nothing").

  • Polish
    Polish language
    Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

    : Siedem fachów, ósma bieda ("Seven trades, the eighth one - poverty").

  • Portuguese
    Portuguese language
    Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

    : Pau pra toda obra ("Wood for any building")

  • Romanian
    Romanian language
    Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

    : Bun la toate și la nimic ("Good at everything and at nothing")

  • Russian
    Russian language
    Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

    : Мастер на все руки ("Master in all hands."). Used only as a term of praise. За десять дел возьмется, ни одно не закончит ("Goes for ten, done with nothing"). К каждой бочке затычка ("A peg for every barrel") — someone who wants to participate in every deal.

  • Spanish
    Spanish language
    Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

    • Chile
      Chilean Spanish
      Chilean Spanish is the variety of Spanish spoken in most of Chile. Though still entirely mutually intelligible with standard Spanish, Chilean Spanish has distinctive pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and slang usage...

      : Maestro Chasquilla ("Fringe Master").
    • Argentina,Uruguay
      Uruguayan Spanish
      Uruguayan Spanish or Uruguayan Castilian is Castilian as spoken in Uruguay and by the Uruguayan Diaspora. Uruguayan spanish is rioplatense spanish but it differ with the rioplatense spoken in Argentina in few words for example, "championes" instead of the argentine word "zapatillas"...

      : Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta ("He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp").
    • Spain
      Castilian Spanish
      Castilian Spanish is a term related to the Spanish language, but its exact meaning can vary even in that language. In English Castilian Spanish usually refers to the variety of European Spanish spoken in north and central Spain or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers...

      : Todero, Aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada ("Apprentice of everything, master of nothing").
    • Spain
      Castilian Spanish
      Castilian Spanish is a term related to the Spanish language, but its exact meaning can vary even in that language. In English Castilian Spanish usually refers to the variety of European Spanish spoken in north and central Spain or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers...

      : Maestro Liendre, que todo sabe y de nada entiende ("Knows about everything but understands nothing").
    • Spain
      Castilian Spanish
      Castilian Spanish is a term related to the Spanish language, but its exact meaning can vary even in that language. In English Castilian Spanish usually refers to the variety of European Spanish spoken in north and central Spain or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers...

      : Un océano de conocimiento de una pulgada de profundidad ("An ocean of knowledge of an inch deep").
    • Mexico
      Mexican Spanish
      Mexican Spanish is a version of the Spanish language, as spoken in Mexico and in various places of Canada and the United States of America, where there are communities of Mexican origin....

      : A todo le tiras, y a nada le pegas ("You aim for everything, but you hit nothing")Chambitas ("Little jobs").

  • Tagalog
    Filipino language
    This move has drawn much criticism from other regional groups.In 1987, a new constitution introduced many provisions for the language.Article XIV, Section 6, omits any mention of Tagalog as the basis for Filipino, and states that:...

    : Marunong sa lahat, magaling sa wala ("Knows everything, masters none").
  • Tamil
    Tamil language
    Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

    தமிழ்
    : பல தொழில் கற்றவன் ஒரு தொழிலும் செய்யான்("A man who knows so many businesses but thinks for ever to choose which one to master")

  • Thai
    Thai language
    Thai , also known as Central Thai and Siamese, is the national and official language of Thailand and the native language of the Thai people, Thailand's dominant ethnic group. Thai is a member of the Tai group of the Tai–Kadai language family. Historical linguists have been unable to definitively...

    : รู้อย่างเป็ด ("Know like duck")

  • Turkish
    Turkish language
    Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

    : Her işi bilen hiçbir şey yapamaz. ("One who knows everything cannot do anything") Boş işler müdürü ("President of unnecessary things").
  • Vietnamese
    Vietnamese language
    Vietnamese is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam's population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam...

    : Một nghề cho chín, còn hơn chín nghề ("Being master in one job is better than being average in nine jobs").