a jack of all trades is [a] master of none

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raymondaliasapollyon

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

I'm wondering why the indefinite article "a" is not in the standard version of the proverb:

A jack of all trades is [a] master of none.

I'd appreciate your help.
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I'm wondering why the indefinite article "a" is not in the standard version of the proverb:

    A jack of all trades is [a] master of none.
    In my experience, it is rarely said like that - it is either as heypresto says or

    :1878 S. Walpole History of England. I. 311 It would be unfair to say of Lord Brougham that he was ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    In my experience, it is rarely said like that - it is either as heypresto says or

    :1878 S. Walpole History of England. I. 311 It would be unfair to say of Lord Brougham that he was ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.
    Why does the indefinite article disappear anyway, in your particular example?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The answer is "because people omit it when they say it."

    master (uncountable) = the personification of the concept of mastery of something
    a master = an example of a person who shows a mastery of something.
    the master = the specific person who shows a mastery of something.

    Your assumption is wrong:
    I'm wondering why the indefinite article "a" is not in the standard version of the proverb
    There is no "standard version", the following are all possible.
    • Jack of all trades is master of none.
    • A jack of all trades is master of none.
    • A jack of all trades is a master of none.
    • A jack of all trades is the master of none.
    • The jack of all trades is master of none.
    • The jack of all trades is master of none.
    • The jack of all trades is a master of none.
    • The jack of all trades is the master of none.

    (And "jack" may be spelled with or without a capital.)
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The traditional saying is not a proverb, or a complete sentence. I have never heard it as a sentence.

    Instead, it is a description of a person. It is a noun phrase: "jack of all trades, master of none".

    Note there is a modern English noun "jack-of-all-trades". See "jack of all trades" in the WR dictionary: jack of all trades - WordReference.com Dictionary of English
    Would you say "John is jack-of-all-trades" without the indefinite article?
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Good, just as I expected. What about "John is master of none"?
    On its own 'John is master of none' doesn't mean anything.

    But if you wanted to compare say Peter and John, I suppose you could say 'Peter is jack of all trades, but John is master of none.' It would be pretty unusual, but we would probably bring the standard expression to mind and understand what you meant.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    "John is a master of no trade." Traditionally, when learning a trade, you were an apprentice, then a journeyman, and finally a master. So to be a master of a trade required several years of training.

    The expression is old enough (hundreds of years, I would guess) to be using this meaning of "master". It also uses "jack", an obsolete term. According to etymonline.com:

    Jack: Used in male personifications from 15c.; first record of jack-of-all-trades "person handy at any kind of work or business" is from 1610s
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I think "a master of" would be the most grammatical version, since "master" is countable.
    If you google this expression, you'll find 144 returns for the "master of" version and 150 for the "a master of" one.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The saying varies from person to person and context by context, although broadly in line with #5. There is no "most grammatical" version in the same way that there is no "standard" version. :)
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "John is a master of no trade." Traditionally, when learning a trade, you were an apprentice, then a journeyman, and finally a master. So to be a master of a trade required several years of training.

    The expression is old enough (hundreds of years, I would guess) to be using this meaning of "master". It also uses "jack", an obsolete term. According to etymonline.com:

    Jack: Used in male personifications from 15c.; first record of jack-of-all-trades "person handy at any kind of work or business" is from 1610s
    Is the indefinite article optional in "John is a master of no trade"?
     
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