The term jack of all trades, master of none is a phrase that means a person is suitably skilled at multiple things, but they are not an expert at any of them.
The word “jack” can refer to the common, ordinary man. So with this expression, a “jack of all trades” basically means a “man of all jobs.” In other words, it’s someone that 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 appears in a book titled Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners by Geffray Minshull. This book was published in 1612 and a part from it reads:
“Some broken Cittizen, who hath plaid Jack-of-all-trades.”
What about the last part of the phrase? When were the words “master of none” added to the tail end of it? It’s hard to say for sure, but the earliest example I could find of it is from 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 shorter version of this expression are used today.
Here is an example of 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 George. He’s our local handyman.