8 Aug. “Jack of all trades.” What is the meaning behind this English expression?
This is an English expression which is commonly used in informal contexts. If you want to find out when it should be used and where it originates from then keep reading!
This expression is used to denote that a person is capable of doing a variety of things. The expression is often followed by the phrase “master of none” in order to highlight that whilst a person has the ability to turn their hand to many different things they do not often excel in any of them. In general this phrase is used in a derogatory fashion.
The first use of the expression dates to the year 1612 in Essayes and characters of a prison and prisoners by Geffray Minshull which told of his experience in prison. It reads “some broken Citizen, who hath plaid Jack of all trades.”
It was then in the latter half of the 18th century that the second part of the phrase, “master of none,” was added. It was first found in Pharmacomastix by Charles Lucas which reads “the very Druggist, who in all other nations in Europe is but Pharmacopola, a mere drug-merchant, is with us, not only a physician and chirurgeon, but also a Galenic and Chemic apothecary; a seller of drugs, medicines, vertices, oils, paints or colours poysons, & a Jack of all trades, and in truth, master of none.”
An example of the phrase can be found in a quote by American writer Napoleon Hill who stated “the jack-of-all-trades seldom is good at any. Concentrate all of your efforts on one definite chief aim.”