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Jack of All Trades

A swiss army knife. jack of all trades

Jack of All Trades Definition

Jack of all trades.

  • A person who has many skills.
  • A person who is skilled in many different jobs
  • A very versatile and talented individual

Meaning

Jack is an outdated term for any common man or man of lower class. A trade is a job or job related skillset.

Jack of all trades, master of none is a common extension of the phrase. It makes the modern use of the phrase derogatory meaning that one might be able to do a lot of different things, but none very well.

Jack of All Trades Examples

  • Did you hear we’re only getting one other guy on the job today? Good things it’s Keith. He’s a Jack of all trades. He’ll have the furnace build and installed all by himself!
  • Our small business can only afford one other employee. They’ll have to be a Jack of all trades who can market, advertise AND on-board clients!

Quotes

I’m a Jack of all trades character actor, really.

Steffan Rhodri

I’ve always wanted to be – I know people think this is an insult – but a jack of all trades.

Sophia Lillis

Jack of All Trades Origin

Spiritual Origin

Therwhile he hath his fulle packe, Thei seie, “A good felawe is Jacke”; Bot whanne it faileth ate laste, Anon his pris thei overcaste

Confessio Amantis, John Gower, 1389

The origin of this phrase is said to be from Confessio Amantis a 33,000 line poem from the English poet John Gower. Gower was a known personal friend of Geoffrey Chauncer, and also known for his poems Vox Clamantis and Mirour de l’Omme.

Literary Origin

Now for the modt psrt 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.

Essayes and characters of a Prison and Prisoners, Geffray Minshull, 1618

The earliest use of our phrase as we use it today appears in a collection of essays written by Geffray Minshull. These essays appear to be a collection of musings from Geffray’s time at King’s Bench Prison in Southwark London in the 1700s. There is little information about Geffray except that he most likely grew up in Cheshire England and may have been knighted.

King’s Bench Prison closed in 1880. When it opened appears unknown but it’s been rebuilt multiple times. A fire appeared to burn down buildings in 1381, the prison already established. That would make King’s Bench Prison five hundred years old or older! The correctional facility existed as a place mainly for those in debt. Renamed twice in 1842 to Queen’s Bench Prison then to Southwark Convict Prison in 1872.