jack of all trades

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Alternative forms[edit]


1610s, from sense Jack (man (generic term)). Originally a term of praise (competent in many endeavors), today generally used disparagingly, with emphasis on (implied or stated) “master of none”, as in later longer form jack of all trades, master of none.

First attested in Essayes and characters of a prison and prisoners, by Geffray Minshull, published 1618 (written 1612), p. 50, as Jack-of-all-trades.


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jack of all trades (plural jacks of all trades)

  1. (idiomatic) One competent in many endeavors, especially one who excels in none of them.
    Antonym: jackass of all trades
    • 1618, Geffray Minshull, Essayes and characters of a prison and prisoners,, page 50:
      Now for the most part your porter is either some broken cittizen, who hath plaid Jack-of-all-trades, some pander, broker, or hangman, that hath plaid the knaue with all men, and for the more certainty his embleme is a red beard, to which facke hath made his nose cousin german.
    • 1855, Herman Melville, chapter VIII, in Israel Potter [] [1]:
      Printer, postmaster, almanac maker, essayist, chemist, orator, tinker, statesman, humorist, philosopher, parlor man, political economist, professor of housewifery, ambassador, projector, maxim-monger, herb-doctor, wit:—Jack of all trades, master of each and mastered by none—the type and genius of his land.
    • 1860 December – 1861 August, Charles Dickens, chapter VI, in Great Expectations [], volume II, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published October 1861, →OCLC, page 98:
      "I am my own engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber, and my own gardener, and my own Jack of all Trades," said Wemmick, in acknowledging my compliments.
    • 1912, Mary Roberts Rinehart, chapter 5, in Where There's A Will:
      A fellow can always get some sort of a job—I was coming up here to see if they needed an extra clerk or a waiter, or chauffeur, or anything that meant a roof and something to eat—but I suppose they don't need a jack-of-all-trades.


Coordinate terms[edit]


See also[edit]


  • Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996)
  • Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988)
  • Re: Jack”, ESC, The Phrase Finder, April 13, 2000
  • jack of all trades”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.