J is for Jack of All Trades

By: Joshua Glenn
April 9, 2012

A series of 26 posts featuring excerpts from Joshua Glenn’s The Idler’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2008) and The Wage Slave’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2011). Both books were coauthored by Mark Kingwell, who contributed entertaining philosophical-critical essays on the subjects of idling and wage slavery; and both were wittily illustrated and designed by the cartoonist Seth.


Well before Fordism, workers resistant to specialization were subjected to concerted propaganda efforts. For example: from the early 17th century until the heyday of industrialization, a jack (informal British term for “trade laborer”) capable of doing many tasks well was highly esteemed. But then, to the jaunty phrase “jack of all trades” was appended the unflattering postscript “and master of none.” Don’t believe the hype. In Terry Gilliam’s dystopian 1985 movie, Brazil, Robert De Niro plays a heroic jack of all trades in a convoluted and inefficient social order overseen by over-specialized bureaucrats: he’s a masterless man.


ALSO: Alienation | Big Rock Candy Mountains | Corporation | Dawdle | Employee of the Month | Flazy | Greybearding | Hobo | Inemuri | Jack of All Trades | Knock Off Work | Lazy | Micawberish | Nobbing It | Onboarding | Pink Slip | Quitter | Robot | Stakhanovite | Time and Motion Study | Unemployment | Volupté | Wage Slavery | Xerox Subsidy | Yakuza | Zero Drag


Idleness, Read-outs