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johnny factotum

'Jack of all trades and master of none but oftentimes better than a master of one' is one of two original forms of the modern stripped down 'jack of all trades master of none'.

Another is 'Better to be a jack of all trades than a master of none'.

Both have slightly different and far more upbeat meanings than the current one.

But people have always disparaged those with wings...

If 16th century commentators wanted to imply that a person was stretching their talents too thinly they resorted to the disparaging Latin term Johannes factotum('Johnny do-it-all'). In 1592, the English writer and member of the literary establishment Robert Greene wrote a pamphlet titled Groats-worth of Witte. In that he ventured the opinion that a new writer on the scene was:

An upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you. Beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

Sadly for Greene's ongoing reputation the 'Upstart crow' was William Shakespeare.

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