The term “jack of all trades, master of none” is a phrase that means a person has suitable skill in multiple things, but they are not an expert in any of them.
Example: There is an older man living in our neighborhood that’s competent at fixing all kinds of household problems. Whether it’s a broken door, a busted fence, or an electrical issue, he’s the guy to call. I guess you could say he’s a jack of all trades, master of none because his work, while not perfect, it gets the job done. (In other words, this older man is skilled at various crafts, but he’s not an expert at them.)
Note: It is common for the first half of this phrase to be used by itself, without the “master of none” part.
Synonyms: handyman, man of all works
The Origin of – Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None
The word “jack” can refer to the common, ordinary man. Thus, a “jack of all trades” would basically mean “a man of all jobs.” In other words, it’s someone who is competent at several different skills.
The first half of this phrase (jack of all trades) has been in use since the early 17th century. For example, it makes an appearance in a book titled Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners by Geffray Minshull. This book was published in the year 1612, and a part from it reads:
“Some broken Cittizen, who hath plaid Jack-of-all-trades.”
But what about the last part of the phrase? When did the words “master of none” start to be added to the tail end of the expression? It’s hard to say, but the earliest example I could find of the full version is in the early 19th century. For instance, it is seen in The Atlas newspaper, 1828:
“You rarely meet in England a man who is Jack of all trades and master of none.”
Both the long and short version of this expression are still in use today.
Tip: If you want to see more English phrases like this, here’s a list of sayings starting with “J” that you can check out.
Here’s an example of how to use this phrase in a sentence:
- Whenever something breaks around here, Barry can usually patch it up. He’s a jack of all trades.
- The wind blew down our fence, so it’s time to call Matt. He’s our local handyman.
Note: The origin for some idioms and phrases cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided in these scenarios, then, are any plausible sounding theories that go over how a phrase originated.
In addition, the quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this does not mean they are the source of the phrase’s origin. It simply means the phrase is at least that old.