Jack of All Trades: Origin and Meaning
Back in the 14th century, working class men were generically called Jack. They were usually farmers, labourers and artisans and worked very hard for a living. As life was tough, they would often supplement their income by taking on extra work that often strayed away from their day-to-day jobs. A farmer might do a bit of building work for a friend, or a market trader a bit of painting work on the side. Needless to say, the extra work they carried out was often of average quality, as it was not their field of expertise, but was good enough to help them earn that extra bob* or two.
A Jack of all trades, therefore, refers to a multi-skilled person who is able to take on any kind of work and do it with average efficiency. Nowadays, it is used in a derogative manner to describe those people who can do a little bit of everything, but are not specialised in anything…as the expression goes “a Jack of all trades but a master of none”.*bob= a moderately large but unspecified amount of money.
– Her son has so many interests and can’t make his mind up on what to study at Uni. He fails to understand that a Jack of all trades is a master of none.
– Susan can fix computers, repair a leaky faucet in the kitchen, play the piano, put up shelves, give good massages, and save money. She is a Jack of all trades.