Having suitable skill in multiple things, but not being an expert in any of them.
Example: There is an older man who lives in our neighborhood and he’s competent at fixing basic household problems. Whether it’s a broken door, a fence, a plumbing issue or an electrical one, he’s the guy to call. He will even paint your house if you want him to. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none; most of the time, his work is decent enough and gets the job done.
In other words, this older man is skilled at various crafts, but he is 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.
The Origin Of – Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None
The word “jack” can refer refer to the common, ordinary man. Thus, a “jack of all trades” would basically mean “a man of all jobs.” It’s someone who is decent 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, Geffray Minshull wrote a book titled Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners. The book was published in the year 1612, and there’s a part from it that 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 being added to the expression? It’s hard to say, but the earliest I could find the full version of this expression is from the early 19th century. For instance, it is seen in The Atlas newspaper from 1828, where it reads:
“You rarely meet in England a man who is Jack of all trades and master of none.”
Both the long and short version of the expression are still used today.
Here’s an example of how to use this phrase in a sentence. Please note that only the first sentence will use the expression. The second will say the same thing essentially, but it’ll show you how to do it without using the phrase.
- Barry is decent in the kitchen; his meals aren’t bad. He’s also got a knack for taking care of plants. Have you seen our lawn? I tell you, the man is a jack of all trades.
- Barry is an adequate cook; the the food he puts together is pretty good. He also has himself a green thumb, if you couldn’t tell from our front lawn. He’s sufficient at several things.
Note: The origins for most idioms and common phrases cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is from an older time.